R B Kitaj is one of the most unorthodox yet influential figures in contemporary art. He was born Ronald Brooks on 29 October 1932, in Cleveland, Ohio. Deserted by his father when a baby, he grew up with his mother, Jeanne, a secular Jew, who married Dr Walter Kitaj—a Jewish refugee from Vienna. The family was agnostic and it was only when Kitaj was a student in Vienna that he realised that despite the fact that he considered himself to be an ‘all–American boy’, his counterparts in Vienna would not have been so lucky.
‘Imagine what it felt like … to walk down a street and know that people there had been pulled out by the Gestapo and sent off to concentration camps. It was really my first serious awareness of being a Jew.’1
Last updated January 2017