Posted in Art, boys, girls, paintings by okkame on April 19, 2011

R.B. Kitaj, If Not, Not, 1975-76




Planet TR (The Tower Recordings) – The Seventh Member


been listening to The Tower Recordings albums I missed out on. The Tower Recordings are undisputedly an urban hipster legend. It’s highly unlikely that America will ever contain a coterie of this talented, inspired musicians again. On this song, P.G. Six paints voices of sanctification and humility over the apartmentized pasture dwelled by city apparitions who waft across aerated beauties.



R.B. Kitaj’s comment on If Not, Not


Two main strands come together in the picture. One is a certain allegiance to Eliot’s Waste Land and its (largely unexplained) family of loose assemblage. Eliot used, in his turn, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the dying figures among the trees to the right of my canvas make similar use of Conrad’s bodies strewn along the riverbank.

Eliot said of his poem, ‘To me it was only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life; if is just a piece of rhythmical grumbling.’ So is my picture … but the grouse here has to do with what Winston Churchill called ‘the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world’ … the murder of the European Jews. That is the second main theme, presided over by the Auschwitz gatehouse. This theme coincides with that view of The Waste Land as an antechamber to hell. There are (disputed) passages in the poem where drowning, ‘Death by Water’, is associated with either the death of someone close to the poet or the death of a Jew … like most of the poem, these passages are fraught with innuendo.

The man in the bed with a child is a self portrait detail in the waste like middle ground which also shows scattered fragments (such as the broken Matisse bust) being sucked up as if in a sea. This sense of strewn and abandoned things and people was suggested by a Bassano painting, of which I had a detail, showing a ground after a battle. Love survives broken life ‘amid the craters’ as someone said of the poem.

The general look of the picture was inspired by my first look at Giorgione’s Tempesta on a visit to Venice, of which the little pool at the heart of my canvas is a reminder. However, water, which often symbolizes renewed life, is here stagnant in the shadow of a horror … also not unlike Eliot’s treatment of water. My journal for this painting reports a train journey someone took from Budapest to Auschwitz to get a sense of what the doomed could see through the slats of their cattle cars (‘beautiful, simply beautiful countryside’) … I don’t know who said it. Since then, I’ve read that Buchenwald was constructed on the very hill where Geothe often walked with Eckermann.



2 Responses

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  1. segmation said, on April 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I don’t know if I like the broken Matisse bust but If you like Matisse, please take a minute to look at my blog at: and thanks for allowing this comment.

    • okkame said, on April 27, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Of course I like that fauvistic woman. Thanks for being a matchmaker.

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