Picks and Pans Review: Arikha

updated 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by various authors

He may not be one of the best-known artists around, but in some quarters of the New York and European art world, Avigdor Arikha is considered one of today's most masterly painters. This handsome book serves as a worthy introduction to his life and work. Born in Romania in 1929, Arikha was raised in Nazi labor camps, where as a boy he drew on scraps of butcher's paper. Then in 1965 Arikha, who had been brought up as an abstract expressionist in the post-Cézanne world, turned to realism with a passion he describes as "a violent hunger in the eye." His leap backward in time to reconnect on 20th-century terms with the realist tradition was not easy. "After Cezanne," he once said, "how do you paint an apple?" But the intimate subjects of his quietly charged art include asparagus wrapped in greengrocer's blue paper, a model's nude back, her head swathed in a black-and-white turban, a loaf of curling French bread. Arikha completes his oils in one sitting, whether it's a portrait of a doctor friend melting into his undershirt on a hot day (1977) or an oil of Britain's Queen Mother (1983). Her portrait took one hour and 45 minutes. Yet Arikha's pictures convey both an immediacy that arrests and intimations that last, hinting at a melancholy spirit trapped in the flesh. Among the 189 illustrations are revealing self-portraits of the frowzy-haired painter and tense drawings of playwright and friend Samuel Beckett, who praises Arikha's "acuity of vision." Articles about Arikha from a number of critics and writers (Beckett among them) are included. (Thames and Hudson, $50)

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