Born to artist parents in Tel Aviv, brothers Ron Arad and Atar Arad explore the creative origins that would one day shape their accomplished futures.
RON ARAD: I’m in our parents’ empty apartment in Tel Aviv, surrounded by Esther’s mountains of paintings, drawings, and only some of Grisha’s sculptures. All through our upbringing, I was hungry for a real cause to rebel against. I remember being jealous of my friend who had a completely independent life from his parents.
ATAR ARAD: We were lucky to have parents who gave us freedom. At one point I decided to go and study history at university. After two months I missed practicing my violin. I just did whatever I wanted. And when I switched to viola, for the first time Grisha said, “I’m not sure I like it.” I said to him, “I didn’t tell you that I am switching to viola because I need your approval. I am just telling you.” Later, when I won prizes and competitions, he said, “Oh, you were right.”
RA: Our family was very good at creating myths. I survived all my life getting away with things. I still need the approval, the applause, and the compliments—but mainly it’s getting away with things. Not doing things the way I was expected to do it. Was I a rebel?
AA: No, you were not, although our mother always thought of you as a rebel. It’s funny you say that because I was thinking lately—I find myself becoming more and more unconventional. I really despise thinking, “I have to do that because other people do it.” When I’m teaching, I hate doing scales, even though everyone does it. Actually I wrote an article about why you should not do it and how damaging it is.
RA: There was a period in my childhood when I was forced to read a certain amount, maybe an hour a day. And I remember I did everything but read. I used to ask myself how I could know what was in the book without reading it.
AA: I was a reader. We were very different.
RA: You were the good boy.
AA: But now you are the good boy.
RA: When our parents were young, our father was the promise. He was the big talent. He was the cultured one, and mother came, more or less, from a slum. Everyone told her that if she ended up with him, that was the end of her career. She would always be in his shadow. The opposite happened. Grisha had a crisis and decided to stop making art. After that you would think he’d be bitter about her career, but he was her biggest support. He made all her frames. He stretched all her canvases. He took the photographs. It was almost too much. I thought at some point he was strangling her.
AA: Just before Esther died, she came to the terrace, sat down, and said to me, “I really think your father was so talented, and we didn’t acknowledge it enough. No, not we—I didn’t credit his talent enough.” And then she said, “But artists are self-centered.” I thought that was so unusual because usually mother would not admit that she had made a mistake. The next day she passed away.
RA: They started working together in their old age. At the beginning, she demanded, “Not like this. Like that.” But the strangest thing is that he went on “working with her” after she passed away, still signing the work in both their names.
AA: I look at you and all the things that you have done. You have never changed. Even in your room when you were young, you were the same. You had a pen- chant for objects, and in this way you have developed but have never changed your character. I remember in your first apartment in London, you poked a hole through the wall.
RA: I remember. Don’t talk about that. There’s no story there. I just cut a hole between the bedroom and the living room in the rented flat.
AA: You wanted to put a TV in this hole so that you could watch during the day from one room, and then turn the TV around to be able to watch it from your bed. I was shocked when I saw you making this hole. I asked you, “Are you crazy? What is the landlord going to say?” And I remember what you said like it was yesterday. “First of all, the landlord never comes here. Secondly, if he sees it, he will raise the rent because the apartment is better now.”
AA: Do you know there’s a landscape hanging in the computer room with Esther’s caption underneath?
RA: Do you mean the one where she says that for her, drawing nature is like being an interpreter of a piece of music? She says something like, The artist reads from the score of God. Again, the combination of music and visual art was always there in the house. I remember I went to a Picasso exhibition in Paris. The paintings were in chronological order; room after room of portraits. The last one was called “auto portrait,” but there was only a line with a little squiggle. When I looked at it, I saw that it was Picasso there, contained within the squiggle. Later, I made a connection between Shostakovich’s last piece and the auto portrait. There are not many notes in Shostakovich’s piece, just essentials, but it is the composer. I think, in the end, art is art. Whatever you do, whether you are an architect, or designer, or painter, or composer, basically it comes down to the same thing: to create. I hate when people say: Where does your talent come from? Are you from an artistic family? It is my least favorite question. I think people are allowed to have talent even if no one in the family has talent.