Book Arts

Meir Agassi in Memory – Dr Iain Biggs

Meir Agassi was a writer, artist and critic who, born in Israel, came to settle in Bristol. A graduate of Fine Art at UWE Bristol, he was killed with his wife Tessa and eleven year old son Danny in a tragic road accident in February 1998.

Meir was an extraordinary person. He produced a wide range of visual and written work, and was an enormously inspiring person to be around. He made a major contribution to the development of a particular culture of printmaking in the School, both through his own work and his support of the work of others.

What I valued most about Meir was not so much the particular outcomes of his work – the many wonderful books, beautifully produced project announcements or cards you see in this online archive and in the memorial display at UWE (many of which he generously gave away to his friends) – as his passionate desire to share his enthusiasms. He seems to have been driven to draw others into his work, to communicate and share his way of seeing the world.

This passion to share what mattered to him spilled over into, and coloured everything he did. If he felt something was important, it was inconceivable to him – as it is to a child – that those around him would not find it important too. Art, with Meir, seemed in the end to be his particular way of conducting a caring, critical, passionate ‘extended conversation’ about what he saw, knew, remembered, felt and thought about.

In a note at the end of Lyla he writes:

“I made some drawings in ink in a manuscript book which used to belong to my father. My father was a music teacher in our local school in the Kibbutz, and also conducted the local choirs and orchestras. People – children and adults – used to mock and jeer him, and to laugh at him. They had no respect for him. They called him Toscanini because it was the only other conductor they knew. They mocked him with their ignorance. Toscanini was the most famous conductor in the world.”

The drawings in Lyla (which in Hebrew means night) are dark in both senses of that word, and mix with strands of text over the lines of the manuscript book. They are interspersed with a text which, like the drawings, tries, as Meir puts it, to “catch old ghosts”. Like much of Meir’s work, and as the quotation above serves to suggest, Lyla is both intensely personal and a meditation on the possibilities of the project we call art; particularly in its relationship to matters of ‘culture’ which are of the utmost importance to our survival as fully human beings.

Meir was in many respects inseparable from his wife Tessa and son Danny; both of whom provided him with much needed love and support. I believe they will all be remembered with both great sadness and great joy, by all those who knew them.

“The angels from the Duino Elegies are buzzing and lamenting the death of the loved one”

Meir Agassi, Lyla, 1992

Dr Iain Biggs
Reader, Visual Art Practice / Co-convenor LAND2
School of Creative Arts, UWE