R. B. Kitaj's 1992 painting My Mother Dancing is a highly unconventional portrait, a cacophony of colour and movement that captures its subject in a moment of festive abandon. It depicts the artist's mother amidst a celebratory dance at the wedding of his son Lem Kitaj to Dana Kraft in California. Kitaj frequently visited his mother and son who lived in Los Angeles around this time (often staying with close friend David Hockney). From the late 1980s, Kitaj had increasingly withdrawn into family life, and the tone of his paintings took a marked turn toward a confessional mode. While he had spent much of the previous two decades contemplating his Jewish heritage on a global scale, here he turned inward and contemplated part of his own personal history.
Recent personal difficulties had given way to new sources of inspiration, as Kitaj explained: 'I emerged around 1990, from an unseemly depressed passage, punctuated by a heart attack, facing death for the first time, scared as hell and newly interested in mortality A rush of painting ideas and a new ego-driven freedom seems to have crept up on me by 1990, suggesting the onset of an old-age style of sortsmore free than ever to be myself I think, to be ones own fool - yes, more loose and assured in my neuroses and their sensation-induced touch (R. B. Kitaj, as quoted in R. B. Kitaj: A Retrospective, exh. cat., 1994, p. 50). In contemplating his mother's weathered features, Kitaj was clearly thinking about the effects of age and oncoming mortality (indeed, his mother would pass away only a year later), and he magnifies the creases in her face and hands with bold quivering lines. The contrast between her impassive visage and flailing arms make it unclear whether there is a touch of senility that accompanies age, giving the painting a poignant undercurrent. Yet she also embodies his notion of being free to express oneself, as revealed in both her unconventional fashion sense and her uninhibited dance. Kitaj's loose handling of paint and nervously wavering line convey an unfettered subjectivity, so that the spontaneity of his mother's dance appears fused with the artist's own expressive freedom.