R B Kitaj, Barcelonetta (detail), 1979, lithograph © The Estate of R B Kitaj

R.B.Kitaj: A survey of his printmaking 1964 - 2001

14 February - 6 April 2002

This important exhibition surveyed the graphic work of one of the most distinctive and influential artists of the late twentieth century.

R.B. Kitaj is known principally as a painter and draughtsman, but his activities as a printmaker have produced an extraordinary body of graphic works that reflect the intense concerns and ambitious subject matter of his paintings and drawings. Comprising over 50 works on paper, this exhibition was a rare opportunity to see almost the full range of Kitaj's printmaking since the 1960s, including screen prints, etchings and lithographs that reveal the variety and innovation of his print production. Beginning with his influential collage screen prints of the 1960s, the exhibition showed Kitaj's interest in the social, political, and cultural history of the twentieth century and his enduring dedication to the human figure as the prime subject of art.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Kitaj travelled widely and studied in New York, Vienna and Oxford before training at the Royal College of Art in London in the early 1960s, where he met and formed a close friendship with David Hockney. From his first exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, London, in 1963, the American-born artist built his career in Britain, living on and off in England from 1957 until 1995. Kitaj's experiences and studies in these early years exposed him to a huge range of cultural and intellectual influences, and he became fascinated by the great literary, political and artistic figures from the past. In his printmaking and painting he has drawn on his vast knowledge of European art from the Renaissance to the present as well as a wide variety of cultural sources, from Kafka and T.S. Eliot to Cezanne and Degas.
The exhibition included an early suite of screenprints entitled Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol (1964-67). In the Mahler series Kitaj used collage techniques as a means of bringing together his complex and offbeat range of interests. Inspired by the music and literature of the Viennese composer Gustav Mahler, these compositions combine texts, literary references and photographs, drawing upon a myriad of diverse and unorthodox sources. Kitaj's early prints employed similar collage and photo-mechanical printing techniques to artists of the Pop Art movement, but his interests never wholly embraced popular culture and he disassociated himseft from the style. Kitaj's most recent work includes intimate portraits of family, friends and Old Testament figures, which explore his Jewish roots and his personal and cultural identity.

The exhibition was organised in collaboration with Marlborough Graphics Ltd, London.

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