As a child in the darkest years of persecution in a concentration camp during the Second World War, Arikha had shown a gift for drawing and recording unspeakable scenes but, after studies in Jerusalem and later Paris, he began his professional career as an abstract painter in the zeitgeist of the1950s. It was his friendship with Giacometti that was decisive in changing his direction and style in 1965. Of that return to figuration Arikha wrote, “I discovered the joy of submitting to everything.... I had to learn how ...to hold, by the line or brush stroke, what I see, through feeling."
For seven years he drew and painted only in black, with pencil, crayon or ink, before reintroducing colour into his work. For his figure subjects his principal models have been himself – in many, sometimes courageously unflattering, self-portraits – his wife, occasionally his two daughters, and his closest friend, the poet Samuel Beckett.
The exhibition features a rare and wonderfully concise silverpoint study, Samuel Beckett with his Hand over his Mouth (1971). Being also a perceptive writer on historical as well as modern art, in the portrayal of the female nude he has been constantly challenged to capture both form and emotion anew.
Among his portraits there have been distinguished sitters such as Pablo Casals, Henri Cartier - Bresson, David Sylvester, and the Queen Mother but also anonymous figures – chance sightings which caught his eye and imagination on the spot, which he set down with spontaneity and rapidity. Included in the exhibition is the large scale charcoal drawing Catherine Deneuve (1990)which remained in the artist’s own collection.