Avigdor Arikha

Tubes of Paint in their Drawer


Not on display

Avigdor Arikha 1929–2010
Pastel on paper
Support: 499 × 329 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Catalogue entry

T04939 Tubes of Paint in their Drawer 1985

Pastel on velvet paper 499 × 329 (19 1/2 × 13)
Inscribed ‘85 Arikha’ b.r.
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Exh: Avigdor Arikha: Oil Paintings, Pastels and Drawings, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Oct. 1986 (20, repr. p.28); Original Eyes: Progressive Vision in British Watercolour 1750–1850, Tate Gallery Liverpool, May–Aug. 1991 (no number, repr. p.8)
Lit: Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1987–8, 1988, p.12, repr. Also repr. Richard Channin, André Fermigier, Robert Hughes et al., Arikha, Paris 1985, p.194 (col.); Jean Clair, La Renaissance du pastel, Paris 1989, pl.1; Duncan Thomson, Arikha, 1994, p.165 (col.)

This pastel depicts the contents of part of a drawer in the artist's studio in Paris. The tubes of paint (at least sixty can be counted) are lying on their sides and distributed between four irregularly shaped compartments. The image is predominantly grey but the labels of the paint tubes are picked out in yellow, red and occasionally blue.

Arikha's still lifes are based mostly on his immediate physical environment and often feature small, commonplace objects found in his home or studio. His subjects are rarely planned in advance and once started are always completed in one sitting. In a number of drawings and paintings Arikha has chosen to study, as here, a group of similar or near identical objects in close association.

In conversation with the compiler in Paris on 25 April 1990, Arikha said he was drawn to the subject depicted in T 04939 for purely visual reasons. What interested him was the density of the structure created by the paint tubes being massed together; their extraordinary appearance had struck him one day quite by chance. The tubes and drawer were ‘spectacular’ to look at: ‘chaotic, chaos within order’. This manner of responding to a purely visual stimulus is typical of his working practice. Arikha often returns to the same motifs and has made a number of still-life studies which include tubes of paint as the principal motif, such as ‘Tubes of White Paint’, 1981 (oil on canvas, repr. Channin, Fermigier, Hughes et al. 1985, p.121). Although smaller than T04939, the 1983 pastel entitled ‘Paint Tubes’ (191 × 321 mm, repr. Avigdor Arikha: Paintings, Drawings and Pastels, exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, New York 1983, p.40) is similar in character.

Arikha first used pastel as a child and again during the 1950s. In 1983 the Louvre acquired a pastel portrait of Madame Tronchin by the eighteenth-century Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard. Arikha, who has been involved with the Louvre for many years, was present when the pastel arrived at the Cabinet des dessins, and was sufficiently moved by the encounter to experiment with the medium in his own work. He then began to work occasionally with pastel, a medium which offered very different qualities to those of oil paint. In conversation Arikha pointed out that layers of pastel colour can be put down without them merging, something that can not be done in an oil painting made in a single sitting.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996


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