Letter: An outstanding artist who has been unfairly rubbished

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The Independent Online
Sir: R. B. Kitaj has made in a large number of paintings some of the strongest, most original and haunting images by any artist working in England in my lifetime. The Ohio Gang, Cecil Gonet and John Ford On His Deathbed, to name only three, have stayed vividly in my memory for years. There are many others. But Andrew Graham-Dixon's dismissal of Kitaj's Tate Gallery retrospective ('The Kitaj myth', 28 June), rules out any positive achievement of any kind. In effect, he has rubbished a lifetime's work by an artist now in his sixties and an outstanding figure in contemporary art.

As I like and admire Mr Graham-Dixon's criticism very much, I am puzzled by this negative view of so much work and activity. Is there nothing of any consequence whatever in the entire Kitaj output? I should be concerned if it were not for the fact that although all Mr Graham-Dixon's points are reasoned with his customary grace, his review gives no idea whatever of what Kitaj has actually created.

Kitaj offers us a series of images that bring together in odd covergences a good many of the things in art, life, literature, movies, politics and history that touch him as a man. As an artist, he is true to his experience of life. He plays paradoxical games with all this experience in the way that his imagery is presented, even in the way it is handled in design, colour, brushwork, drawing, surface and scale.

What Kitaj achieves at his best is absolutely virginal, personal and peculiar to him. There is nothing anywhere quite like the finest of the Kitaj paintings.

May I add that for years now Kitaj has had a most bracing effect, imaginatively, on students and young artists all over England and in the US; that he is greatly loved and admired here, with all the usual grumbles and reservations, by every artist I've ever known; and that Kitaj first stood up for serious drawing and the retention of the life class not long after the 1968 students' revolt brought artistic discipline into bitter disfavour.

Mr Graham-Dixon's displeasure in the work seems to have been aggravated by the sight of so much text by Kitaj adorning the galleries and in the catalogues and perhaps looking, to him, a bit pretentious. But Kitaj has always been something of a Village Explainer and I think this shows a friendly and trustful nature: visitors to the Tate exhibition are visibly very interested in Kitaj's


Yours sincerely,


London, N1

28 June