TEL AVIV.- This two-part exhibition is held as a homage to Avigdor Arikha, who died earlier this year, aged 81: one part includes illustrations Arikha made for S.Y. Agnon's A Stray Dog, and the other includes self-portraits.
Avigdor Arikha was born in 1929 in Bukovina, Romania, and began drawing as a child. During World War II, under Nazi rule, he was deported with his family to concentration camps, where he continued to draw. He was eventually rescued with the aid of the International Red Cross in 1944, and sent to kibbutz Maale Hahamisha with Youth Aliyah . In 1946 he began his studies at Bezalel, Jerusalem. He was severely wounded during the War of Independence.
On 13 September 1949, Arikha arrived in Paris, and first encountered the French paintings he had so far only seen in reproduction. He visited many galleries and attended lectures and concerts, and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
In the spring of 1950 Arikha first travelled to Italy and saw the frescoes of Giotto, Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. The necessity dictated by fresco technique, to finish a section of the painting while the plaster is wet, was to influences Arikha's future practice: finishing a drawing within a day and never returning to correct or change it. It might also be that other facets of fresco eventually made their way to his later drawings: the local pigment (characteristic mostly of Piero) and the emphasis given to white areas in the drawing; furthermore, Arikha saw the frescoes in daylight, as they were painted and as they were meant to be viewed (artificial lighting was a late introduction), and natural light became a principle in his painterly work; accordingly, he insisted on exhibiting his drawings in natural light, for an exact viewing of their colors.
During 19511953 Arikha lived in Jerusalem, and became friendly with Dr. Moshe Spitzer, the publisher of Tarshish Books. Through Spitzer he got to know S.Y. Agnon and other authors, and introduced the publisher to the young generation of authors and artists, including S. Yizhar, poet T. Carmi, as well as Binyamin Tamuz, who arranged Arikha's first exhibition, in a small gallery in Tel Aviv in 1952. In May 1956 Arikha met the man who was to influence him most: the Irish writer Samuel Becket. It was a friendship that spanned 34 years, until Becket's death in 1989. Undoubtedly, Becket's influence on Arikha's development was enormous.
Between 1957 and 1965 Arikha worked on distilling the form towards a spontaneous, intuitive, non-rational abstraction. In his 1966 essay "Peinture et regard," Arikha commented that "painting ought to be seen beyond meaning [
] Painting ought not be read. It is not an ideogram. It has been given no role. It is not materialization, it represents nothing but itself: a surface with lines, forms and colors in a state of tension. Someone has worked there and enabled this surface, manually, to organize to the limit of its abilities." Of his abstract paintings Arikha said they were not "according to nature" but rather "in parallel to nature."
In 1965 Arikha went through a crisis, stopped painting and concentrated on drawing and printing. In 1972, in a letter to Dr. Haim Gamzu, he wrote: "I admit that all my paintings, all the large canvases I once painted and which apparently I shall no longer paint (but who knows?), all the earlier forms are hidden now in my small brush drawings. But those who have not seen my previous paintings cannot know the nature of the 'inner form' which I am tryingwith no great successto get rid of. Even though I came to an end in 'emitting' my form, my being on alert towards all the still and live is only at its beginning. [
] To sum up, I was born into modern art, and it was my start. I think that period is closed and in any case, I have left it. In other words, my recent brush drawings are post-abstract and could not have come into being without abstraction. But the secret and 'grand' subjects (in the sense of 'maniera grande') of my old paintings, all belong to the past."
This was followed by the decision to paint "only what the eye sees." Samuel Beckett described well Arikha's work process and the relationship between the eye and the hand: "Siege laid again to the impregnable without. Eye and hand fevering after the unself. By the hand it unceasingly changes the eye unceasingly changed. Back and forth the gaze beating against unseeable and unmakeable. Truce for a space and the marks of what it is to be in the face of. Those deep marks to show."
In addition to being a painter, Arikha was involved in the research of art history and the philosophical aspects of art. He lectured, curated exhibitions and made documentaries on artists, e.g. Velazquez, Vermeer and Caravaggio. In his lectures, exhibitions and films Arikha sought above all not the standards formulated by researchers of schools, movements and trends, but rather aimed directly at the unique, individual soul of the artist. There are few artists in Israel and worldwide who have been blessed like Arikha with such clear, coherent thinking, and fewer still whose artistic work is woven within such deep-rooted theory. May his work be an example for generations to come.