The last interview with Avigdor Arikha
Arikha in 2009: I have had a full, rich life and most of the time I rejoiced in it.
A few minutes after the interview begins Avigdor Arikha asks me to turn off the tape recorder. Before I have a chance to ask him why he is making his way to the attic, he returns with an oil painting of a typical Israeli rocky field.
"It's very important that you look at it well," he tells me, placing it on the easel. "This is how you'll understand me."
At first glance it was clear why he insisted on showing me this painting, called "Judean Hills landscape," as it combines, with an alchemist's accuracy, the elements of his work - observation and reduction. And light of course. That natural light, he said, he emigrated to Paris for at the end of the 1950s.
But as we look at the painting together in silence, I understand what Arikha wanted to tell me in the first place: He will never be able to return to this place again. And as he said in the interview published in Gallery: "One does not miss something one does not see - there is no such thing. Seeing is an immediate thing. And even if I wanted to, I am no longer capable. This is it, this is the end."
Again silence gripped us. Only one question could break it. "No, I am not afraid of death," he replied, gazing at the painting. "I've met it several times in my life. I've had a full, rich life and most of the time I rejoiced in it. You know, a man loses himself in several stages toward death - first he loses his talent, then his body and finally his consciousness. And poof, he's gone. Like a particle in space."
Exactly a year ago I interviewed Arikha on the occasion of his 80th birthday. I traveled to Paris, where he had been living since the end of the 1950s, and stayed with him for two days.
He had not given a media interview for years. There were rumors that his health was frail due to a severe illness. That was the unwritten, unspoken condition we agreed on - I knew that the end was near, but I mustn't write about it explicitly.
Perhaps my being a visitor from afar, after a long time of not inviting anyone into his spacious home, or speaking in Hebrew again, after so many years. But Arikha seemed filled with vitality. He spoke passionately about his days at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, about his close friendship with playwright and author Samuel Beckett and the exhibitions he mounted in Israel.
But from time to time a deep melancholy overtook him, perhaps the flood of painful memories - the horrific death of his father during the death march to the Luchinets concentration camp and the long hours he spent in the morgue, believed to be dead, after being severely wounded near the Kastel hill.
Shortly after the interview was published, I received a postcard. On one side was a drawing Arikha made in 1990, of a tiny silver teaspoon on white cloth. His close friend Samuel Beckett received it at birth. When Arikha's daughter Alba was born, Beckett, her godfather, gave it to her. It took Arikha a year to come to terms with Beckett's death and finally he immortalized him with this picture.