Avigdor Arikha was born to German-speaking Jewish parents in Rădăuţi, but grew up in Czernowitz (now in Ukraine), in Bukovina, Romania. His family faced forced deportation in 1941 to the Romanian-run concentration camps of Transnistria, where his father died. He survived thanks to the drawings he made of deportation scenes, which were shown to delegates of the International Red Cross.
Arikha emigrated to Palestine in 1944, together with his sister. Until 1948, he lived in Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha. In 1948 he was severely wounded in Israel’s War of Independence. From 1946 to 1949, he attended the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. In 1949 he won a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he learned the fresco technique. From 1954, Arikha resided in Paris. Arikha was married from 1961 until his death to the American poet and writer Anne Atik, with whom he had two daughters. Arikha died in Paris from complications of cancer on April 29, 2010, the day after his 81st birthday.