R.B. KITAJ – BOOKS AND PICTURES : A SILENT ROMANCE
Variations around an LA Louver exhibition
Collages and prints, 1964-65 Nov. 2019-Jan. 2020
by ROSANNA ALBERTINI
GERTRUDE STEIN: Oh yes I do like romance that is what makes landscapes but not flat land.
Flat land is not romantic because you can wander over it and if you can wander over it then there is money and if there is money then there is human mind and if there is human mind there is neither romance nor human nature nor governments nor propaganda.
Looking at my young tree this morning, I saw a leaf committing yellowcide. Pessoa screams in my ears the expression is beautiful and he wrote it. But I love it so much that it comes up in my brain by itself, one of the myriad words floating like plankton on my attempt at shaping some perceptions. As I think, or write, I’m always chewing sounds and images as if words had a taste. Or if they were birds’ songs barely kept back by dry branches behind the leaves. Books become foliage at my eyes, each of them sings a verbal music which was a music in the writer’s mind painted with meanings in search of a story. In pictures or paragraphs what makes the text/ure is the author recording and finding place and disposition for the vague, movable, unreliable impressions printed by life on our nerves. Yes Pessoa, we make the dressing for the salad of life.
Trying to meet R.B. Kitaj through his own words I found an artist content with being modern. He walked through the human comedies and Art’s efforts to become “contemporary” by increasing the distance between the hands and the artworks: “mirages”, as Duchamps called them. Kitaj kept his “wayward and melancholic” nature out of society. He was attracted by the solitude of painting. Reading Cezanne’s letters and seeing as an ideal composition The Tempest by Giorgione. Feeling the inside of his head changed by books.
I was upset reading about the violent reactions to his 1994 exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London insulting him as a pseudo-intellectual. Plenty of documents about this on line.
Reality is, Behemoths are hard to kill. First was the World War, then the Bomb and finally the majesty of modern culture, strongly rooted in books. The marketplace became synonymous with freedom, also freedom from books. If an artist hides in his studio surrounded by books he becomes a Behemoth.
He stopped breathing in a plastic beg.
Here is his voice, and a few books transformed by Kitaj into prints, each of them a landscape, not a flat land. Many of his ideas are dear to me and support this blog as the poles under a peer. Their feet in the sand, and the head in the sky.
The very widespread myth that one’s personal life is irrelevant to the painting. To me, this is one of the least attractive (and most boring) ideas in the art discourse of my lifetime. I believe that a painting is an autonomous thing and at the same time an extension of oneself, a vital organ that got away.
sometimes my pictures, feeding on art and books, seem to choke from overeating, over-reacting to better painter and writers crowding my walls, piled up on my floors
I’ve written some short stories or prose-poems for some of my pictures. They have no life apart from the picture. They illustrate the picture the way pictures have always illustrated books in our lives.
Robert Lowell’s poetry helped lead me to think an autobiographical art of painting was not only possible but deep in my bones.
Art and adventure are always confused in my life and I can’t get them sorted out.
Well, first of all I feel unbalanced most of the time. I guess my art, for what it’s worth, may be largely about this lack of balance, in the disorders and refusals which dislocate or animate it. Dislocation seems to be an aesthetic mood in my pictures…we never seem to know ourselves well enough.
“Do you feel not at home in London?” Asked Richard Morphet in his interview for the Tate Catalogue. Kitaj replied: “Home is one of those concepts like love and God…which inspire both yearning and mistrust. … I love romance and fantasy. This whole goddamn retrospective is about romance, which is my truest home, and my art lives there with me. Sometimes I feel at home in London and sometimes not when I get homesick for various fantasies. …
Home is an affair of imagination for me, of which my pictures are both poor reflections and my most hopeful shots. But you have detected something: a sense of loss? Making odd or even wrong choices in life, as in art, becomes an aesthetic.”
Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego, The Book of Disquiet, Translation © 1991 Alfred Mc Adam, Exact Change Edition, Cambridge MA, 1998
Gertrude Stein, The Geographical History of America, Random House 1936, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1995
R.B. Kitaj, Unpacking My Library, Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, 2015
R.B. Kitaj : A Retrospective, Catalogue Tate Gallery 1994. “Kitaj Interviewed by Richard Morphet”