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This report is taken from PN Review 202, Volume 38 Number 2, November - December 2011.

Kitaj in the Lake District Simon Eckett
While painting The Rise of Fascism (1975-79), R.B. Kitaj wrote to the publisher, poet and hiker, Jonathan Williams, 'Keep on Truckin. you are one of the only ones. In your own time, the daily thing may feel bleak but it is probably not and will look good when people look at your work and your days from outside.' For Kitaj 'the daily thing' became really bleak in 1994 when his wife Sandra Fisher died and his Tate Gallery retrospective received such criticism that after thirty-five years of living in England he left for his native America. Once home he engaged intensely with his American and Jewish identity, the death of his wife and his continuing anger at the critics. He died on 21 October 2007 at the age of seventy-four.

Now in 2011 Abot Hall Art Gallery, a Grade I listed Georgian house on the right bank of the river Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, offers us the opportunity to look at Kitaj's work and his days 'from outside'. The first major exhibition in England since the dark days of 1994, Kitaj: Portraits and Reflections displays Kitaj's versatility in oil, pastel, charcoal and screen-print and his voracious appetite for human engagement in art, literature and thought, for culture in its broadest sense, from his first paintings in the late 1950s to his last oils painted a few months before his death. As the curator and close friend of Kitaj's, Marilyn McCully, said in her speech opening the show, 'Michael [Raeburn] ...

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