Essays by James Hyman

Avigdor Arikha: no frugal meal

Avigdor Arikha: no frugal meal


Essay by James Hyman

Avigdor Arikha: New Paintings, Drawings and Prints at Marlborough
May 6th to June 4th, 2004


For Paris-based painter Avigdor Arikha, the repertoire of subjects could hardly be more prosaic. Still lives are simple collections of household objects: Seven Tomatoes, Four Kinds of Hat, Stool and Shoes. Portraits are set against neutral backgrounds and show men often clothed in a uniform of shirt and tie and suit (Richard Morphet, Leon Wieseltier) and women often naked and seated or reclining. A landscape may be the view through a window, a nearby tree, the wall of a neighbouring house.

The subject is the quotidian and its presentation apparently matter-of-fact. But distinction is achieved by Arikha's insistence on the separateness of each and every object and person. ln contrast to Morandi, for whom unity was achieved by touch and tone. Arikha's achieves harmony through colour and composition. While Morandi generalised, Arikha particularises.

ln Frugal Meal each ingredient, separately located across a vast expanse of table, is carefully contained in its own receptacle (a plate, a platter, a bowl, a glass) and becomes a locus for colour. In Four Jugs simple vessels are placed in a row across the picture plane. Each is a distinct shape. Each is unpatterned. Each a single colour: blue, yellow, white, black - with the red of the brick wall on which they sit adding the missing primary colour. In Seven Tomatoes the vegetables are pushed to the very top of the picture so that the focus becomes the space around them.

This insistence on the separation of objects and of colour may seem reductive, but within the limits Arikha has set himself the achievement is substantial and the effect is not of isolation but of integration. The ingredients may seem humble but this is no `Frugal Meal'.

Avigdor Arikha: New Paintings, Drawings and Prints at Marlborough, May 6th to June 4th, 1994.

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