From Holocaust sketches to 'post-abstract naturalism'From Holocaust sketches to 'post-abstract naturalism'Internationally renowned Israeli painter Avigdor Arikha, who as a child drew sketches of a Nazi concentration camp and later painted portraits of the Queen Mother and actress Catherine Deneuve, has died in Paris. He was 81.
Arikha died of complications of cancer at his home on Thursday, David Robinson, director of the Marlborough Gallery in New York, which carries the artist's work, told the New York Times.
Born in 1929 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Romania, Arikha was a longtime resident of Paris and also had a home in Jerusalem.
At the age of 12, he was deported with his family to a concentration camp in Ukraine, where he turned to drawing on scraps of paper. Seventeen of his sketches survived the war, one showing a pile of corpses in a wagon and a woman's naked body being tossed into a grave.
The drawings came to the attention of the International Red Cross. Soon after that, Arikha was permitted to leave the camp with a group of children cleared for release, in place of a boy who had died.
Wounded in 1948
He was taken to Palestine, where he lived on a kibbutz and then studied art at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. In 1948, he fought in Israel's war of independence and was wounded. When he recovered, he moved to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Although he lived in Israel for only a short time, Arikha spoke Hebrew fluently and considered himself an Israeli artist. He maintained continuous ties with Israel and frequently exhibited his work there.
His early paintings were abstract, but Arikha renounced abstractionism in the mid-1960s, and created his own style that retained strong elements of abstraction in its focus on geometrical objects. He called it "post-abstract naturalism."
In an interview in 1979, he told the Washington Post that he came up with the name "after my shock at the stupidity of an art critic who wrote about my very nice impressionist work."
He was also a portraitist. His portrait of the Queen Mother was commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and many of his works depict his friend Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright; his wife, American poet Anne Atik; and himself.'He had an exceptional gift for capturing something deep in people and expressing their mystery.'—French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand
Arikha's works are in the collections of the Louvre, the Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Jewish Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and elsewhere.
He wrote and lectured on art and art history, and curated several exhibitions at major museums.
In 2005, he was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.
He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren.