'No time, gotta paint' / A Paris excursion with Avigdor Arikha
Like the line of his drawings, Avigdor Arikha's lifestyle was meticulous, precise, uncompromising.
Like the line of his drawings, Avigdor Arikha's lifestyle was meticulous, precise, uncompromising. The first time I met him, he suggested that I accompany him to buy tea in the finest shop in Paris. And just as the Japanese have a tea ceremony, Arikha had a tea-buying ceremony. He looked at the tea seller and meticulously explained which types of tea he wanted packaged in a bag. He observed the weighing of the leaves with a sharp eye, took the bundle and left the shop at as vigorous a pace as his age permitted. Afterward he launched into a learned lecture about the quality of the tea and the virtues of the shop, Mariage Freres, purveyors of tea for the past 150 years.
Arikha paid close attention to detail, whether it was a tea infusion, the ink he used for drawing, the paper on which he worked or of course his line, the unmistakable line. In his studio, in front of a breathtaking drawing of Catherine Deneuve, I asked how he decides exactly which part of the person to include in the composition and which to leave out. "It's like laundry, you have to decide where to hang it from," he replied. He hung his laundry with maximum precision on the canvas, without allowing any extraneous detail to drip inside.
When we conducted a conversation, Arikha insisted on proper etiquette, the correct titles, the precise words. He told me about what he considered a formative moment: the day Samuel Beckett said they could address one another in the informal second person singular, tu, rather than using the formal plural. He liked this distance, which the French language allows. The absence of this etiquette in Israel, which he left in the 1950s, upset him, and he was convinced the situation was steadily deteriorating, in Paris and in Jerusalem.
After half a century in Paris, Arikha was more French than most Frenchmen, and at the same time painfully Israeli. The last time I met him, he complained about some article in Le Monde that he felt slandered Israel, and sighed about the situation as only Israelis know how to do. But as opposed to previous occasions, this time he didn't invite me home to continue the conversation with Anne, his beloved wife.
"I have no time, I have to work, work, only work," he said - like someone who knew his days were numbered.