Sculptor, Assemblage artist
Active in New York, N.Y.
Sound recording: 1 sound tape reel ; 7 in.
Transcript: 34 p.
Format: An unrelated interview of Ray Johnson (4/17/68) conducted by S. Fesci is also on this tape.
Portions are difficult to understand due to Arman's imperfect command of English.
Collection Summary: An interview of Arman conducted 1968 Apr. 22, by Sevim Fesci, for the Archives of American Art.
Arman discusses his childhood in France during World War II; his conceptual approach to art; his association with Yves Klein, the New Realists, and the "School of Nice"; and the role of the art critic.
Biographical/Historical Note: Arman (1928-2005) was a sculptor from New York, N.Y. Born Armand Pierre Fernandez. Changed name to Armand Pierre Arman and known as Arman.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.
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Also in the Archives
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Arman, 1968 Apr. 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH ARMAN
APRIL 22, 1968
INTERVIEWER: SEVIM FESCI
SF: SEVIM FESCI
A: - sous le pretexte de vendre de l'armements, il s'en liquidait de tout ce qui ne servait plus [inaudible]
SF: Oui, oui. Combien de temps vous êtes resté en Turquie alors?
A: En tout, en tout deux mois, avec [inaudible].
SF: Vous avez tout visité? Vous avez fait-
A: Oui. J'ai traversé de l'Est à, de l'Est à l'Ouest, et de l'Ouest à l'Est, et de-
SF: En voiture, vous avez fait ça?
A: En dos de chevaux.
SF: En dos de chevaux! Alors. Vous avez fait ça seul?
A: [inaudible] J'étais avec ma femme et un ami qui était, qui est toujours d'ailleurs, qui est maintenant le chef d'expédition, il était épigraphiste de l'expédition française en Iran, d'archéologie, qui etait à [lieu] et en [lieu].
SF: Comment il s'appelle?
A: Le Père Sèvre, un père dominicain.
SF: Me semble que j'ai entendu, je savais qu'il y avait un père, qui, oui-
A: Sûrement, il est très important, sûrement. Il a fait une plaquette assez importante sur [inaudible], et on a été à Boğazköy, on a été à Taissiri [phonétique], on a été voir les, les, bref partout quoi.
SF: Vous êtes allé à Pergame aussi? Parce que j'ai fouillé là pendant deux mois.
A: Vous avez fouillé à Pergame!
SF: Oui, parce que j'ai etudié l'archéologie pendant-
A: À Izmir, Izmir
SF: À Izmir il y a pas tellement de choses encore.
SF: Il fait beau mais-
A: Pas peut-être tout, mais on a pas mal fait le tour. J'ai dormi à Boğazköy sous la tente.
SF: Et comment vous avez trouvé -
[See end of transcript for English translation]
[Interview conducted in English]
SF: Arman, Why don't you start at the beginning, and by the beginning I mean your familial background, and your education, and training. I understand that your whole name is Arman Fernandez Arman.
A: Not really, it's Arman Pierre Fernandez.
SF: Is it of Spanish origins?
A: Yes - well, Spanish from Algeria, Algerian Spanish. And some, some of my family is from Malte [Malta], some from Tunisia, from Algeria. Some - I have grandfather Jewish, Sephardic Jewish, Spanish Jewish. And, grandmother Spanish, Algerian-Spanish. My mother is French.
SF: Your mother is French. And your father is?
A: My father is Algerian Spanish.
SF: Algerian Spanish. And where were you born? Were you born -
A: In Nice.
SF: In Nice. And your parents were artists themselves? Or they were, are you the only artist?
A: Yes, what we can call, Sunday painter. My father was a Sunday painter. And my aunts, my sister father [sic][redac: father's sisters] too , they were all artists. They painted. My father taught me to paint oil painting when I was ten.
SF: Oh, he taught you?
A: Yes. I was already quite gifted for painting.
SF: When you were very, very small?
A: When I was a child at four I wasn't really drawing like a child, I wasn't sketching as a child. I would sketch and draw a little bit like a man, and I was using perspective, the good relationship with the subject.
SF: And that was very spontaneous?
A: Yes, spontaneous. And I remember everybody was amazed that it wasn't really a childish way to paint and to draw.
SF: And what were your relationships to your family?
A: What family? My direct family?
SF: Your direct family, the direct family, your parents, mother?
A: I am single [sic][redac: only child]. And I - My father was from a quite rich family. He was the broker with the crach man [phonetic]. My grandfather was on the banking stock. He was a millionaire, and they were living in Monte Carlo, Hotel de Paris. They were all quite rich. And my mother was very poor. She was a maid, a peasant from the country. And during a long time my mother was the mistress of my father. And I didn't recognize long time after, when I was five. They married when I was five. And, quite a good relationship but I always felt my mother was very unhappy because she wasn't accepted by the family of my father. It was quite a very strange relationship. On the Sunday afternoon at the precise time of two o'clock, the family of my father received, well, me, then my mother, me and my mother once a week or once a month, I don't remember. It was quite ceremonious.
SF: And all the family was- Do you have brothers or sisters?
SF: You are the only son?
A: Yes. But my father had sisters and all that family was living with draconian tradition. My father's sisters never went out.
SF: They never went out.
A: No, no. They were under very special experiment, where they were living in a very large apartment. Even in Nice after, first in Monte Carlo, with pillow and cushion [sic] everywhere, waiting to be married. Nobody, they -
SF: They were not married?
A: No. Because they didn't know, it was stupid, you know. They keep, they keep a little it the news of the family in Algeria. They were the kind of family they were very not - The girls didn't go outside.
SF: She was waiting for her husband at home?
SF: But your grandparents were, they were still alive, at that time?
A: Yes, at that time, yes. They died quite old, eighty years old. They were alive when I married, myself.
SF: Oh, they were still alive? Oh I see. And -
A: Well. My father is a very sweet man. A little bit hyper-subjective. Only one things count for him: his wife, his parents, his dog, if he has a dog, his son. The other people doesn't exist. He's completely cut off -
SF: Out of the world, yes?
A: Out of the world. His own small world. He is very sweet, too sweet. He is not at all authoritative, honest man, never had to make, never had a - afraid to have a fight with me even when I was a baby. A very too sweet father. But a strong mother.
SF: Oh, she was strong?
A: A very, very strong lady. A very strong character. And, very sweet and very artistic, my father was playing cello, painting, listening to music, or reading poetry. But a little bit cold style, you know? Everything that was really the taste of the end of the 19th century, the average bourgeois' taste at the beginning of the 20th century.
SF: Oh, I see, yes. And did your father want you to be an artist? Did he push you in a way?
A: All the family, all my father's family pushed me to be an artist. They were, thought I was very good at art and could do a lot of things like that. But they got quite deception when they followed my evolution.
SF: In which way do you mean?
A: It was quite a shock, you know. It was very funny. I remember I had been in a school after I completed my secondary studies, my baccalaureate.
SF: All that in Nice it was?
A: Yes. I went, I did baccalaureate philosophy. And after I take the - got into the school of National Arts Décoratifs. And I was a very good student. I won many first prize for nude drawing and sketching, anatomy and everything. And I was one of the two -
SF: It was very classical drawing?
A: Yes. I was one of the two three best students of the school, the whole school. And I didn't finish because I found it quite boring and I left for Paris. And I wanted to go to the school of Beaux-arts. But the exam was so long and so difficult and I started to prepare for it but I never finished it. And I went to the School of Louvre for History of Art. And there I completed the studies at the School of Louvre. I was interested in the study of history of art.
SF: But I'm sorry, at the School of the Louvre you didn't draw, you didn't paint, it was just historical?
A: No, no. Historical, but it was important for me. It gave me an idea, a kind of general idea about the history of art. It was quite important because - showed me the necessity of some evolution, artists, history, art of the world. And there I started to paint by myself. What I was doing was quite surrealism. When I showed -
SF: In Paris?
A: In Paris. When I showed-
A: When I showed my father some of those surrealistic things, he started to scream that it was disgusting: "why this personage have a head finished with, like a diamond. Why? it's not natural." And after I changed after for some years I become abstract, and, a bit influenced by De Staël and Poliakoff. My father: "Before at least there was some figures, now nothing. What does it mean; it's terrible." After, I was involved by stamping objects on color. He said, "Well, before it was some color painted with oil painting, but now what is it? What are those tracks, those things?" After I was involved in the object himself, the object together and garbage, garbage can, "My goodness before it was, at least it was-" And every time the evolution was worse, worse, worse.
SF: Something else. And he didn't understand what-?
A: My father: "When will you become serious, you will take a real job, you have three children and you're not serious. All those stupid things that lead to nothing." And all the family was like that. He was roaring I was so old and didn't like to make money, to do somethings and I was really the shame of the family.
SF: So, as you told me, you went to a school where it was only girls?
A: Yes. I guess, to start with, you asked me, I guess, about what was my major interest?
A: I guess because I used to be alone, to have not friends to play with because I was living only with my mother in a house where there were no other children, apartment house with only old people. And I used to invent my games myself. And I was really attracted by every kind of combination I could make of games with someone else or quite always involved a number of small objects like money, or matches, and kind of topological games, you know, not very complicated with very simple type of game. I invented stories, some with soldiers, some with people and they changed places. And I did this quite late, even I invented games like that even when I was thirteen years old, after. But I start to play alone by myself very young. And that changed, that changed when we moved and my parents got married. And we moved to a place where there were some other children. But something special, instead of going to school, the public school, the junior public school where all the children were going and mixed between girls and boys, I went, because some friends of my parents who had their daughter there who was the same age as me, I went to this school. It was to this school, a very exclusive private school for girls. And from six, from five and six months to eleven and six months, six years, I've been to this school with only girls. And I guess it was quite an interesting experimentation.
SF: And your relation with the girls was very good?
A: Oh, yes. I was very happy because from the Directrice to the younger pupil I was the only man and everybody was very nice with me. It was a very good feeling. Maybe because of that I've never felt very insecure with a woman.
SF: You were used to it when you were very young.
SF: And then you left school when you were eleven years old.
A: Yes. Then I changed. They take me out that school because the Directrice was worrying that I started to flirt a little bit too much with the girls and they take me out of that school, before it could be dangerous. And I went at the Lycée. In France, école-lycée. And I don't know and that was about the time, just the time when the war finished, the first phase of the war in France was finished.
SF: Yeah, I didn't ask you when you were born.
A: In 1928. And when I was eleven the start, the war start, start.
SF: It was just starting.
A: Just start. And when I was twelve, it was very bad climate. And because of the climate, because of the change of schools, and, I will, I made during three years very bad studies. It was just, I was just the last one of the class. And I remember they brought me [to] a different school and it was a very tough school. One time it was for- It was especially a technical school for worker who wants to become specialist. I was so bad in school when I was there. And I remember that kind of club called the "Club of the Yanne." The "Yanne" it was a kind of slang word for li-co-rice; licorice? licorice? You know, that's kind of candy, black candy, licorice.
A: It was the slang word for licorice. The purpose of the club; it was a racket, a very simple racket. The last one, of the-
SF: Of the group-
A: The worst pupil was the president, the second worst was the vice-president, and the third worst was secretary of the club. And we divided the class in two parts, good pupils, bad ones. The good pupils have to pay a fine for the good notation to the bad ones-
SF: So the bads were the goods.
A: -that could buy, like licorice and ice cream. There was very few ice cream; the country was so poor. But we had a kind of licorice and a thing called Glace Ateka [phonetic], which was just a kind of syrup on crushed ice, this time. And I had been president twice of three quarters. And this thing has been discovered because the better pupils were complaining to their parents, they couldn't be that much good there. If they were good they had to pay a fine to the others, and if they didn't pay the fine, we were the stronger too. We were not only the worst we were the stronger. We'd beat them up all the time if they didn't pay the fine. And after this scandal has been, I dropped out of the school. That was very strange, because I was always, when I was playing as a child, as a child, in a group as a child, I was violent and competitive, I always wanted always to be the best, the strongest, the fastest. Or I was playing alone very quietly and very seriously. Or reading a lot. I read quantity of, very well. I was reading quite well at eight. But, I was reading at five. My mother taught me to-
SF: What were you reading?
A: -before I went to that school, I was already reading. But my-
SF: And who was telling you what to read, your mamma? You pick up everything?
A: No, I was reading, pick up everything, you know. I read most everything I could. But very quick I've been involved with things like Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, adventurous things and classical things which I could find. And I was reading, reading, over-reading, even in the night if I could. Later, when I was 13, 14; even when I was in boarding school, I would try in my bed I had a blanket to read, and I read the largest quantity of things possible.
SF: And did you have some heroes at that time?
SF: Did you have some heroes? A few persons that you admired?
A: Heroes? Mythical heroes?
SF: Yes. Through books or?
A: Oh Tarzan. When I was really small, Tarzan, because I saw some movies before the war. Tarzan. And I was always playing Tarzan with the other ones.
SF: And you were the Tarzan?
A: Yes. And if I wasn't Tarzan I tried to beat everybody, and make it. And if they were stronger than me, I preferred to give up than to play anything else but Tarzan. And Tarzan, and after, I was very, I was very involved in Captain Nemo, of Jules Vernes. I would like to be a kind of Captain Nemo who knew a lot of things. He was quite a superman in science and everything.
SF: And were you impressed by the news, you know, from the war? You know, because you said that when you were in boarding school it was during the war. And were you impressed by, you know, the news that you might have read in the paper or what your parents said about the war?
A: I didn't pay that much attention of the fact itself. I was really involved in the visual fact, photography of the war. And I was very attracted by everything. I can say now, I guess, I was attracted by the planes. I would see some pictures of planes throwing shuttles and other planes exploding and things like that. Or newsreels on the news. And, I was really attracted by every kind of violence.
SF: Violent things, yeah.
A: Or, image of explosions or things like that, photography. I was really really attracted by that. But without the judgment of what it was, after, I had judgment, showed me the German side. My father had to escape because the Gestapo was looking. I was lucky with my very French and paysanne [peasant], to avoid anything. But my father and family had some trouble.
But it was quite a, quite a strange feeling. And it showed very quick, because Nice was not a very rich part of France about food. And I don't know if you know that but we had the most severe rationnement [rationing] in Europe, more than Poland, in fact. Nobody knows that more than Poland and more than Bulgaria, as Russia- And it was quite okay for people living near a rich country, because France is quite rich in agriculture. But in Nice it was just awful. And, furthermore, the bridge, the main bridge that was communicating between France and that part of France which was Italian before, and claimed by Italian during the guerre [war], we were living under the Italian flag. And if you weren't Italian citizen, you were like a slave and the food problem become so, become so-
SF: Difficult, difficult.
A: Difficult that it became the main thing of every day. I killed cats to eat them. I killed birds with my sling. I was really a marksman with my slingshot.
SF: You bring them home, or?
A: Yes. We were eating them in soup. We had cats. Very quick, no- Nice was a town of retired people, full of old ladies and their cats and their birds. And really I can swear in six months not one cat-
SF: Were running anymore?
A: -surviving among the streets of Nice. We ate all the cats there and we ate all the birds, include the sea gulls, everything we could get, because very quickly we couldn't reach the sea. It was, the Ger- When the Italians gave up in '42, the Germans built a kind of wall. Nobody could get fish anymore. It was finished. The way to the sea was cut off. And food, because rationing was something crazy. I remember we were dreaming in the night about food. My grandfather, but not the- my mother's father was a peasant, sent many, many packages, you know, many parcels, but then one in every five arrived and a times they arrived open and somebody take.
A: In '43, end of '43, we received one with a ham. But it travelled for so long time it was covered of worms. And we eat it like that. We just take off the worms, and we eat it, a small piece of, we had a, we just take off with knife very quick the worms, put that under water, the worms, and ate it. It's really- Food was really a problem. Maybe all those insecurities and other things lead me to that very securizing [sic] image of accumulation.
SF: Yes, I was thinking of that to understand.
A: Because, just after the war, when the war was over, I found a little job in a building office working with the American Army. I didn't speak English but just, I was just with a sign, to show the hotel where the Americans were, the boarding house. The station to the- But I could, I start to make some business with the American Army, with the P8. And I became quite good at trading because we were starving until 1948 in France. But less than 42, 44 and 45. But, you have been in France at this time?
SF: Yes, but it was-
A: In Paris?
SF: No, I was in Monaco.
A: In what year? You were a baby?
SF: Yes, I was a baby. I was three years old, three or four years old. I don't remember anything.
A: Even Monaco was quite terrible for that. I don't know what was the status of Monaco in this was.
SF: No, it was not so, so bad, as far as my parents told me.
A: It was quite independent, maybe?
A: They could receive some food from Switzerland or America?
A: I have good, one good memory. You know, sometimes, sometimes, you know, we always have a memory of the- People do not like Switzerland because they always have the feeling, you know, that they get profit out of the war and they didn't get any risk or everything, as well. It causes resentment. But I can't feel any resentment for Switzerland, because one of the best-
SF: For what again?
A: For Switzerland.
SF: For Switzerland, yes
A: Because one of the best memories I had it was during, just during the war. Once a day at school a quart of milk was offered by Swiss to the children and that quart of milk was something so wonderful! And sometimes chocolate.
SF: So that you began to dream of Switzerland?
A: Yes. Switzerland was a dream, a dream country.
SF: And you told me you were reading a lot as a child. Did you have time to paint, too?
A: Not as much. I was very good. I was always the first one, but anyway in any kind of school, in the classes of -
A: I was the first one. I was painting a little bit, drawing a little bit. But my main activity was really reading and building games, a lot of solitary games. I played chess very young. I taught myself chess when I was eight. And I was playing chess a lot then. I was proven, I beat my father at chess when I was eleven. He become so mad he just throw the chess set out through the window.
SF: And did you have good friends at that time?
A: Few, very few. Because I used, it was always - I had a gang. After, after, after twelve, when I was thirteen, I had a gang. In this gang was the singer, Gilbert Bécaud. We were the same age.
SF: Oh, he was with you in the gang?
A: Yes. It's very sad because, that gang we were five in this gang, five six or six, small gang. Quite tough boys. And some become very famous of this gang. One became famous as a killer. And another as a singer, Gilbert Bécaud. One killer has been involved in a lot of politic things, and become bodyguard, and a killer for the RPF. And myself, I become a bodyguard but not for politics but because I was so friend with him, to protect him, too.
SF: So you were, you were his bodyguard?
A: Yes. He become a bodyguard and become kind of responsible of a lot of things with De Gaulle, when De Gaulle was fighting with Communism. And I become the, I become a bodyguard of the Minister Dassault and I have been involved in a lot of bombing, a lot of terrorism. And, it's very strange, because at the same time, I had that very violent life. It happens, once in a time, once in a month, somethings, a duty to do, to bomb those who are for Communists, to machine them. And I was quite good at that, I was gifted for things like that. And, but this I got-
SF: Why? Why? Can you explain why you were so attracted by violence?
A: I guess because, I guess maybe, if I make an analysis. I can't be very accurate one, of course, but I have been in psychotherapy. I worked a lot, as every kind of psychotherapy, I also work a lot in the surgery. I guess it's a kind of homosexual repression as every kind of violence. When you see on all those Nazi Party and all those organizations and when the young men are very attracted by violent sport, to prove themselves they are really male. And I guess, that was, I was paying the reverse of the six years with girls.
SF: in the girls' school
A: Something like that. But, besides that, I was very, it was a kind of a very strange push for me, because in this time I met Yves Klein.
SF: When was it?
A: When I was 18. I met Yves Klein at a judo school. Yves Klein and -
SF: That was the way you met him?
A: Yes. At the judo school, we met at the judo school. And I become very quickly involved in a lot of metaphysical philosophy, like philosophy Hindu, Rosicrucians, Zen Buddhic. And I was, my time was very, work on philosophy and things, and break with some violent things, like politic things and all that. It was very -
SF: Yes. Two tendencies within yourself.
A: Two tendencies, very strong. And I become, I become very good at judo. I become a judo teacher. When I was 22 we had the school in Spain with Yves Klein.
SF: In Spain?
A: In Spain, made it with Yves Klein, I was teaching in the school of Yves Klein there.
SF: When did you become independent financially from your family?
A: When I married.
SF: Did you marry very young?
A: Yes, very young. Because I married at something like 24. And I was soldier at the time. And I had been drafted -
SF: Were you drafted?
A: I had been drafted at 23-24 because I was a student.
SF: What were you studying at that time?
A: History of Art in Paris. I became partially independent because after a while I was still working with my father. After a while I became independent. I worked with my father. I became again independent. I worked again with my father.
SF: You worked, you mean?
A: Yes, I worked with my father. He had -
SF: You mean painting, or?
A: No, no. At first he had a store of antiques, used furniture and things like that. And after -
SF: A shop? He had a shop.
A: Yes, a shop. And after he had one with modern furniture. And we worked, we worked, I worked as a salesman with him at that time. Because it was more easy for me to work for him, I worked for other people, too, because it gave me time when I wanted eight days to have an exhibition somewhere, or some other time, I could take eight days when I was working with my father and I could take two days to go somewhere.
SF: You were at the same time more independent.
SF: And when did you decide to become an artist? Can you recall an exact moment?
A: I always wanted to be an artist. Just, I didn't know how exactly to start because I always had the very strong self-criticism and I knew that I was not doing something very interesting. But I was always involved to do, and I never stop making something. Even when I was - I stopped, the long primary - even when I stopped I was making drawings, sketches, portraits of my friends. But, when I went over to the School of Arts Décoratifs, by reaction, I stopped for a while, but I was coming back. But as, really I got the will, the strong will to make exclusively that and nothing else after '54.
SF: After '54.
A: I remember especially a summer, I got my vacation time in South Spain in a US car, and I got my vacation time one month, and during one month I didn't go out, I painted day and night. I paint, I paint, I paint. And really, I felt strongly that it was my career.
SF: Which kind of paintings were you doing?
A: Abstract paintings at this time.
SF: Under which influence?
A: Influence mainly, De Stael.
SF: De Stael.
A: De Stael, and not very, Kandinsky. They're both very, very interesting. I was painting like 10,000 other painters. Not very individualist, but very- I didn't bring much to these paintings but it was a very good exercise. But I guess it's very important to afford to do a lot of bad things, of wrong things, of weak things. If you can afford it, maybe one day you can do some good things, too.
SF: Yes. Maybe you can find yourself better that way.
A: And, the first personal things I did, it was rubber stamps.
SF: Yeah, in 1954.
A: No, '55, and '56. Really '56 systematically, '55 accidentally. I was in the office working and using the rubber stamps and making compositions with rubber stamps. And the under the influence of Kurt Schwitters and Pollock, and all those influences became very important for me.
SF: Pollock, yes. How did you come to know about them?
A: As any, when I started to really in '54 to be involved in painting, doing exclusively that. I was involved in getting information too.
SF: In information?
A: In information about art. Every kind of magazine, every kind of invitation, every kind of book about painting. I always have the character to become specialist when I do something. Everything I am doing.
SF: By specialist you mean?
A: I specialize very much, everything, it's my character. I have never been a, how do you say that? A dilettante. If I study chess I study chess. I get books on it, I want to become good.
SF: You have to go deeply in what you are doing.
A: I must pro, a professional. I learn judo and I become a pro. Everything I do I kind of perfect this character.
SF: To get deep
A: I dig a lot about. And when I was about to do only painting and nothing else when I gave up the judo and everything in '54, after an operation on the knee, and I understood that I'd never become the champion of judo any more, and it was not the way to. And I was always involved in painting. Like Yves Klein was, too. And what I did, I really digged (sic) the material too, I could huh, information I could receive from every kind of part. Books, history of surrealism, and everything I could find. Relation about exploration critique. I was really collecting every kind of information. I never do just one things instinctively. I always work.
SF: So, like you said, until '54 you gathered a lot of information but you really express yourself in your own way in '54? So you start.
A: No, no. I really start, or I start to really express myself independently as an artist with some original material not before '55.
SF: This is right. That's what I mean.
A: Yes. Not before '55. But always still, I still, when I receive an interesting catalogue, an interesting -, I keep it. I always, that rat pack instinct to keep information (inaudible). It's very important. I always collect slides, pictures, writing, texts, it interests me that, always, in every subject I'm interested in.
SF: Yes. And then you belonged to the School of Nice for a little while?
A: I belonged? I created the School of Nice with Yves Klein, but it didn't exist. It's a joke, the School of Nice.
SF: It was a joke. It's right. I didn't know how to ask you.
A: Yes, it's a little bit of a joke. It was Martial Raysse who for the first time employed that word "the School of Nice" as a joke. But it has been written about an article, by an art critic after, and they related somethings happening in Nice, the new School of Nice. But really -
SF: For you it's a joke.
A: It doesn't exist. I don't think it exists really.
SF: Was there, for you, a kind of group feeling with all those artists?
A: Well, yes. And especially a group feeling with Yves Klein and Martial, and Ben a little bit. Ben Vautier, who is a very interesting personage; more interested in Happenings and expression like Fluxus group. He's Turk, he's Turk.
SF: Yes, I know. He's of Turkish origin.
A: Yes. A very interesting guy. That's where the group feeling, but not for everybody.
SF: And when was it really that there was this kind of, you know that you met a lot together? Was it?
A: Well, it was sometimes fantastic. When Yves Klein was traveling a lot, Yves Klein was the most développé [developed] already. He knew what he wanted. At this time, in '53, he was belonging to the, when he came back from Japan, he belonged to the group, Lettrist group in Paris. It was really a kind of festival every time he was coming back in Nice. We had a lot of sessions, we were making theater happenings and a lot of things; and we started "Symphonie Monotone." We were screaming from many houses on the same note, for the same while.
SF: From a lot of houses you mean? From different houses?
A: From my house, from Yves Klein's house, from everywhere. And it was very fantastic. Every time Yves Klein, many years he was coming back several times to Nice, and we always had a kind of festival. A lot of things happened. We did a lot of things. It was very interesting. He was really the soul of the group, he was more active. I awake later than Yves as an individual. I was more dependent on what happened around me.
SF: Which were the ideals that you shared together? What really was the meaning of this?
A: There have been things like that. But it was just between Yves Klein, Claude Pascal, who was a poet, and me. And what happened one day: when we were very involved in philosophy we decided to become kings, but not kings to have the crown, but kings as responsible, conscious, responsible to some things. And we divided the world.
SF: The world?
A: The World, the universe. Yves Klein was to take everything that was organic life. And huh, it was organic, live.
SF: Nature you mean, in a way?
A: But alive. Claude Pascal, everything that was natural but not alive, like stones. And me, everything that was made.
SF: Oh I see.
A: And we split the world. And every morning, we were traveling - It was a very interesting time. We were very close of each other. We were traveling together by cycling.
SF: This was about when?
A: Oh, that was a long time ago, before we become painters. It was between '48, like that, to '52.
SF: And that was in Nice?
A: When we were in Spain, we were in England together.
SF: Oh, you traveled?
A: We traveled by cycling to Italy or somewhere.
SF: Was it just to know more?
A: To know more. To have experimentation. To teach judo and to be taught in other things, to learn languages. I started a little bit to learn English in England but I was so poorly gifted, as you can see, that it was a complete failure. And, but, it was quite huh. Sometimes there were two of us, or three, or four, when another guy called Vadim, a Russian, came with us.
SF: You mean the singers?
A: No. I don't remember the name; I just remember the first name. And in the morning, we have come, you know, to meditate, together. In the morning we awake and we put our hands on our head like that and we are meditating during five minutes about our worlds, about the subject, about the responsibility we had. We played a lot of games like that. And silently.
SF: It was a kind of game?
A: But very silently.
SF: You were taking yourselves very seriously.
A: Yes. During seven years I have been a vegetarian. That was another kind of game which we took seriously, too.
SF: And did you believe in these games?
A: Yes! Yes, yes. We were very involved in what we were doing. And during this time we would meditate by meditating or by drug, and starvation, fasting.
A: Yes, we were fasting. We were fasting one day a week and one week a month.
SF: For what? Why? Just?
A: Just to become more conscious. We were working on philosophy, Zen philosophy, Buddhism. We took the za-zen position of the night, all the night, starved completely for two or three days, and looking at the moon. In other words, really, we escaped the body. It turned out so well; it was something quite fantastic. I had a very good time with Yves Klein, a good pastime. And it was -
SF: But you didn't express yourself in any way at the time?
SF: And that' it.
A: Judo. Exercise, mental exercise, astrology and a lot of things like that. And, it was the same time I was involved by another friend in those violent political things. But these were going few by few. The other world, Yves Klein and Claude Pascal, take over more and more. And we pushed just the pure stupid violence aside.
SF: You became more aware of yourself, yes.
A: We were really good friends.
SF: And that was always in Nice?
A: In Nice, and traveling, on trips. We were traveling together. I went a little bit everywhere in Europe. From Germany to Belgium, to Sweden, to England, to Italy, and Spain. We teach there. It was very interesting. And we felt that nothing can happen to us. We felt like stones.
SF: You felt that strong?
A: Yes. We were really like rolling stones. Nothing could happen to us. Nothing. And it was of course a very good feeling to have.
SF: In, I think it was in Milan, Milano in 1960.
A: Yes, but the group itself had been met before.
SF: You mean the group of The New Realists?
A: The New Realism group, yes. It was an idea of Yves Klein and Restany; Yves Klein because Yves Klein wanted power and with the group he thought that he would lead the group and have the power over the other people in the group; and Restany because it was an idea of Restany, the new urbanism, the new poetry of the object, of the common object, of the manufactured envir-
A: Environment of the town, the city. And the group has been made originally, it was kind of restrained group with only six people. They were Yves Klein, Villegle, who was the man on the posters.
A: Hains and Dufrene, Tinguely, and me. That was the first original group. And Cesar came after. And, but it was just a manifesto. But the group itself, a few months after, two months after had been officially meet with eleven members at the Yves Klein house. There had been a constitution of the group with a manifest, a New Realism more complete, and with, every member of the group signed. The group lasted twenty minutes exactly.
SF: Twenty minutes?
A: Twenty minutes.
SF: How was that?
A: For the very good reason that start some fighting and dissension in the group. Restany left after everything has been signed. He was so happy, he has a group! Like Breton with his group of Surrealism, Restany had the group of the New Realism with eleven members. He'd gone somewhere to get drunk. To, comment on dit: "Fêter ça." [transl: How do we say: "To celebrate."]
SB: To celebrate
A: To celebrate. He got huh. And he left some members together. Those members were Yves Klein, Haines, Villegle, Dufrene, Martial Raysse, and me, at the house of Yves Klein's. But, the members of the group, they accepted Martial Raysse and the Lettrist group, the group that was scratching posters. But suddenly Hains told to Yves Klein, "Well, you know, I don't agree very much with Martial Raysse. It looks a little bit surrealist, not new realist. It's like you, when you make woman print. I like the blue but I don't like the woman."
SF: Hains said?
A: Yes, Hains said. And Yves said, "Come on! You tell me that in my house!" And he slapped him. "I made everything myself. I made that group. I called everybody. You and your little palisade, you know, little things. You can go to Hell. And I don't want the group any more. I will make a group and we will call it the Group of Nice," as Martial told me. "And we don't -"
SF: So that was the idea for the Group of Nice?
A: No. It was before; Martial called it before. "And we don't want you and there's no more group." And Hains go and the others go and the group was broken, and it was never built back again. Yves scratched one of the posters of the realists, took apart one of the things. He got angry. And two hours after I met Restany and I said, "You know your group of the New Realists is finished, it doesn't exist anymore!" Well, after that, Pierre (Restany) organized a lot of exhibitions of the Group of the New Realists. But for one reason or another, it was never complete. They excluded Martial Raysse for some years, because, well, after some people didn't want to exhibit with the group, some people like Cesar didn't want to sign with the group any more. So all this group, really last, as a group, the whole thing lasted only twenty minutes after it originated.
SF: But what was the idea behind this twenty-minutes group?
A: The idea actually was, I guess as always what happened with a group, groups, they are very good at the beginning of, to take a position to fight against something established. It was to make a coordination of the move against the expressionism, tachiste-expressionism, in Paris; to take, to try to get some place in a salon, to get some exhibitions, to get some recognition, and it was to make some coordinated moves together. And that was the proposal for making the group. And with some secret ideas. People like Tinguely and Yves Klein with the idea "I will use the group for myself." And some weak people like, in the Salon, we don't give the name of the weak one, said, "Well, with big names like that, that will pull me."
SF: Pull me down, yes.
A: Yes. Some will be the locomotive and some will be the wagon, you know. And that was the purpose, I guess, of the group itself, really. Because those artists were quite different anyway.
SF: They were different?
SF: But was there a basic idea? Was there a basic idea, une idée génerale?
A: Basic idea. In general the basic idea has been defined by - it was a long fight to find a sentence who could be applied for everybody. And the sentence, I will tell you in French, was, the sentence everybody accepted to sign was: "Nouveau Realisme égale nouvelles approches perceptives du réel." That's, "New Realism equal, new approach persp- new sensitive, perceptive approaches of the real."
SF: But I saw also another definition that said, that it was forty degrees above Dadaism.
A: Well, that was after.
A: That was more, much after.
A: And that made a big fight because Yves Klein was against that style. He take, he didn't want to-. He was in the show, but against his will. And Martial was too. And me, I was between. It was quite a joke because the, the mov-, Restany make the New Realism start in 1943-1944 with Yves Klein and Hains, as take a position. And for him it was forty years after Dada. And if it was forty years after Dada, after Picabia, it was forty degrees after Dada. It was a kind of joke that doesn't mean nothing, really.
SF: I see, yes, But you have very often been referred to as the Nouveau Réaliste par excellence.
SF: Oui [yes] yourself. Do you agree with this term?
A: Well, yes and no. Because I've never been really a New Realist. A New Realist would be to take reality as it is. The real New Realist could be Marcel Duchamp if he didn't put any base or stand on the object.
A: And the New Realism I guess for Pierre Restany, I was a very good New Realist when I used the garbage, as an expression. And when I use it like that I just pour the garbage in the container. As I did once.
SF: Oh in the container. But what was the meaning behind it? Did you- ?
A: The expression by the quantity.
SF: Expression by the quantity?
SF: But why garbage?
A: To show that sixty cubic meter of garbage is not like the garbage of one person, it has another quantity. And to show the beauty of the element itself, not as you see it because you know it's garbage; because it is like Kurt Schwitters when he was using old paper from waste baskets. Exactly the same meaning. A three-dimensional Kurt Schwitters.
SF: I see, yes.
A: And by accident, because Kurt Schwitters's was a composition. But I start with that very simple theory: I believe that the objects, they have an auto-composition themselves.
SF: That the objects have?
A: They have auto-composition themselves. If you put in the container two thousand forks, they will assemble following plus or less the form of the fork and they will have space between them and they will have auto-composition that will be made by accident, but that will be still predictable when you use an object.
SF: That's your idea of accumulation, you mean.
A: Accumulation. Auto-composition of the object.
SF: But do you mean that the objects have aesthetic values by themselves? Why do you choose that, these objects and not another one?
A: It depends. I'm quite aware of what I'm doing. And I was, at least quite aware of what I was doing. When I was taking an object with a very strong meaning, as an object like a gas mask, which is a little built on the human face, and has a meaning of war or destruction, the meaning of the object was stronger than the aesthetical [sic] one, the poetic, or the message; the literary message was stronger than the aesthetic one. Whereas gears, a ball bearing the aesthetic is stronger than the meaning. But I was aware of that. And it depends on the composition. Sure, if I have five thousand square feet of gas masks from a certain space, we can forget the gas mask. It will be drawn on the mass of gas masks. But because it's a large object it will take on its importance when it will be put in a five by six composition.
SF: I see, yeah.
A: And I knew it when I was doing it. But if I take ball bearings, even in a small composition, two by two feet, the ball bearing could be forgotten as a ball bearing and take a position in an all over grain composition surface. And I always play between those two tendencies; some a little bit more literary when the object has a meaning and some more aesthetically when the object has just plastic value.
SF: Yes. Do you think you are very far from the objects of Marcel Duchamp, for instance?
A: Yes. In the sense that-
SB: The ready-mades. . . ?
A: First I must make the statement that he refused the aesthetic. I have never refused the aesthetic. I integrate the aesthetic, and I accept and I am interested by aestheticism. Even if it's a little bit old-fashioned, I don't care. Because I always pretend that non-aestheticism leads to aestheticism.
SF: L'esthétique de la laideur- [inaudible] [transl: The aestheticism of ugliness-]
A: Yes. Or aestheticism of the non-aestheticism primary structure is aesthetic. Even Bernar Venet when he doesn't want to touch any aestheticism has some aestheticism. His is non-composition only by the choice or by the non-choice to make an elevation from a common objects or form a proposition, and to see, to make this proposition look at it as a piece of art is an aestheticism in itself. And I'm always very aware of it. And even when Marcel Duchamp takes an object and shows it as something else than the object itself by the baptême, baptism of the object, he makes an aesthetical [sic] move because he made this move in the field of aestheticism. If he used the object in poetry he made the move, the object will be used in poetry as meaning. If he make, if he used the object in science, if an object by any kind of chance has to be used, ball bearing, or whatever it is, in science, it becomes part of a total in science, too. But it depends on where you use something and where you take something out of its natural context of use and that becomes a part of what it is. And art is aestheticism anyway.
SF: Yes, I understand it very well now.
A: For that I'm very precise in the statement. It's most impossible to refuse aestheticism. In this case, I prefer to assume it.
SF: But why did you choose the object to express your art?
A: I guess I have a very strong feeling about the object. In first, by my environment, has been-. My father was selling odds, antiques and things and I was concerned by objects. In second, my feeling of quantity. When I was a child, the quantity of objects was always interesting and I was always transforming those quantities. And, I guess I was very sensible as a collector, as an instinct, as a rat pack collector. I collect information. Everything I collect from my childhood up to now, I was collecting. I wanted to have marbles, I didn't want to have marbles just to play.
SF: Just for possessions?
A: For possessions. I guess for securization [sic].
SF: Security you mean?
A: Securing assets.
SB: Oui, c'est ça [yes, that is it], Security.
A: Yes, security. And what happened, too, I have been quite fascinated by the transformation of the object through civilization and of the history of art. A hundred years ago the object had a very strong personality despite the fact that it has been made by human hand. Every chair was a little bit different even if they were alike. Every clock was different. Every cart was different. Every table was different. And these objects got an individuality. You can see that when we collect antiques. You never find exactly the same chair. They were made by hand and they were individual. Even if they were made by hand they were less close of human than the objects made in the industrial 19th and 20th century, objects which have been injected, made by mass production. Those objects made by hand were passed on to the son, and the son passed it on to his son. They were repaired with love.
SF: Yes, from generation to generation.
A: Yes. And because they were really created by hand, they got part of the individuality of the people who created them. But what happened with the mass production the object lost its individuality. When you made thousands of coca-cola bottle, the prototype is a coca-cola bottle, the other ones are just part of the production. A bowl, an object, a plastic bowl, every kind of mass production, a car. And by this fact, they lost their individuality as an object, but they got somethings more human; they got the kind of -
SF: More human?
A: Yes. Like an extension, like nails, like hair, like our skin. It's like, you know, we use objects like a snake uses its skin.
SB: Like a snake?
A: When we are through with the object, we throw it away. And it's a part of the human extension. A car is a part of a human extension more than everything else because we just use it like that, radio, telephone, a bowl, a bottle. They are just an extension of our possibility and, I really mean this, really more an extension of everyone than before the object was more individual. And the kind of surrounding of the mass-produced object fascinated me, scared me, too. And the cycle, the most living cycle of the modern object; production, consummation, destruction in the end.
SF: In the end, a kind of cycle.
A: I've always been very sensitive to the cycle like that, the cycle of production like. And this kind of anguish and this kind of reaction I always transmit or translate in my work. The adventure of the modern object and the classical object. A violin is a classical object. Gears is a modern object.
SF: Yes. When you do accumulation, do you want just to hold the moment, you know, just to stop a moment? How did the idea of accumulation come?
A: The "stop a moment" is another thing. "Stop a moment" is absolutely another completely different thing that I use in my other- I always have two parts of growth: it's accumulation or destruction; these are the two parts of my activities. If you want to split them, very well.
SF: That's right. The accumulation on one side and there's your "Colère" or "action sculpture," for instance.
A: Yes. "Colère," cutting, burning, the blowing in with dynamite, the destroying, the sinking, every kind of destructive action I use.
SF: Is it your way to express your modern times?
A: Yes. Well, no, destruction is more to stop the time.
SF: To stop the time?
A: Yes. You carry a bottle of milk when you're a child, you drop it, so then the milk has a form on the floor and the piece of glass, but it doesn't ever keep it. It's just an accident. It's very intriguing accident always that's happened and you would like to keep it. And the furry, the "Colère," for me has always been something, stop the fire, stops when he has just start.
SF: So you keep it because
A: Keep it, keep that moment, the moment of destruction because it's between destruction and not destruction when you stop the process.
SF: You stop the destruction though, you said?
A: Yes, you stop the destruction.
SF: Or you look at the destruction? You look at it.
A: Yes, when you, and especially when you embed it or fix it in the panel, you stop the moment, you stop the accident, you break a violin like that, everything is blown up. If I could stop them, up [in the] air, and do it, too, I would like that very much. But-
SF: Yes, I see. But there must be a problem of time for you, too.
SB: There must be a problem of time? You know, time, l'heure [the hour]
A: Yes. What time, what do you mean?
SF: Are you obsessed by time?
A: Not as much.
A: No. The time, no. I'm more upset by memory than by time. I don't believe in time. Time is a very relative thing.
SF: Yes, abstract also.
A: No, relative. The memory creates the time. Doesn't exist the time. Even if we refer to the revolutions of the solar system, it is not a constant one. There is a transformation through space, degradation. The Earth turns very, a little bit slower every 2000 years, if 2000 years exist. It doesn't exist in any way. It's more subjective than real. Time doesn't exist. I believe in memory. The memory is the real inspiration. The memory creates the time. And you can see through civilization when a civilization adjust the oral tradition, the civilization takes thousands and thousands of years to give an inscription the reality. When a civilization has the writing and tradition it becomes shorter. When a civilization has a printing tradition it becomes shorter and powerfuler [sic]. When you have computer, it's wonderful. And it's power, pure power. Memory is pure power. Pure power and pure strength, and pure utilization of space and time, if time is something we can really relate. But I don't believe in time itself.
SF: And did you use also human figures sometimes?
A: No. I use it when I used to slice sculpture. But not for-
SF: To slice sculpture you mean?
A: Yes. Bronze sculpture like I bought some corny bronze or metal sculpture and I sliced it.
SF: Because I saw some of your erotic sculpture, what I might say.
A: Ah yes, that was, I made four, then no more.
SF: Oh, that's right, that's all.
A: It was an experimentation I got. But it was more for what I put inside than really the form.
SF: Yes, now what did you put inside?
A: In one I put gloves, human hands, other I could color, other a violin inside.
SF: Oh, I see, yes.
A: Yes. There was a little bit a relation, but I don't feel that easy on the relation of the human body as I feel with an abstract space, geometrical space.
SF: And could you tell me a little bit about the, what they call the creative process involved in your work? I mean by that, if you could tell me a little bit about the bridge between inspiration on one side and intellectual approach on the other side?
A: Oh, yes. I thought a lot about that because it's quite and interesting phenomenon not only for me, for the other artists, too. And, we can divide artists in two. It's always, I like to divide things, it's part of my game. It's not true because, even we can't divide humanity between man and woman because there is always some gradation, evaluation. But there are some artists I call Pavlovian.
A: They react to their environment and they walk like the dog of Pavlov was eating, was making saliva when he react at the bell.
SF: Instinctively, you mean?
A: Yes. Instinctive artist. And the others, conceptual artists. Perfect, for me, the perfect show, that instinctive can be a little bit conceptual, on the line, when Picasso, that I consider an instinctive artist, was working one some tortured woman, it's a line of work. But as a piece itself I know how he starts. He starts as a gift, poetical inspiration, poetical gift and extends that plus or less with destruction, addition, retractation [sic], coming back, erasing, coming back until he felt fulfillment with the piece.
A: That for me that is complete instinctive behavior. Other artists like Mondrian, that I call conceptual, have a precise idea what they do before they start to do it.
SF: You mean they know it?
A: They know it. They have- A large percentage, I will say. A large percentage of the vision of the piece when the piece will be finished, maybe 70%. I'm pretty much sure that when Jasper Johns, who is a little bit of both, when Jasper Johns worked on the Ballantine Ale bronze he knew a little bit how he would make a plaster, from the plaster he made a mold in bronze, and the bronze would be painted as the Ballantine Ale can has been painted. That whole operation you have to have a precise idea of what you will do and to have a representation of the piece, how it will be when it's finished. For the flags, too. And in this case, I call them conceptual. They have a concept of that they are doing, not only on the line but on the piece itself.
SF: Yes, I understand.
A: And some are more instinctive, like Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg is an instinctive artist, even when he's working on some very precise or mechanical or electronical [sic] things like those discs. I'm pretty much- if the concept of the disks, he can figure out with the help of a scientist or technician. What he painted on the disks has been plus or less instinctive.
SF: Yes, I see.
A: And me, I belong more to the conceptual than to the instinctive.
SF: Oh, I see. You mean you have an idea.
A: What will look the piece.
SB: Or let's say a vision in your mind before you start the work?
A: A vision, it's more a reasoned vision, when I have an idea, it's more a vision that I thought about. Before it became a vision I have an idea. For instance, some months ago I had the idea.
SF: Before you started to work?
A: Yes. I had the idea when I was pushing a tube, how it could be the fact if I don't press the tube myself, it's mechanically made, because my pressing of the tube when I press a tube of painting-
SF: There's the mark of yourself.
A: My gesture, my rhythm. I thought if it was just made mechanically, how that's look. And I started to speak about it to friends with some ideas, and for finish after a long time of speaking, turning the idea over in my mind, making small sketches sometimes of the operation, I made a tortured color tube. It's pressed between two Plexiglas with screws and wing nuts. But, before I made the first one, I had to have a clear idea of how it would look.
SF: Before you start.
A: Before I start.
SF: And then, while in the process of doing it, you might change maybe a little? Or?
A: The less possible. I hate any kind of change. That's happened, accidents happen always, especially in the field of plastics or in the field of color. But I'm not that happy of accidents. If I can avoid accident, I avoid accident. I prefer the biggest percentage closest of the primary idea I had of the piece.
SF: Oh, I see. So how much importance, for instance, do you give to the sensibility of the artist? Is it to be apparent in a work of art? Or?
A: For me it's not very important.
SB: It's not very important?
A: Everybody is sensitive. Everybody is an artist. Everybody is a musician. It's just a questions of specialization. Our civilization is a civilization of specialization. You kill every kind of natural need very young in the child. Primitive tribes, or primitive human groups, everybody, when it's a festival, if there's a celebration, religious or not, can express themselves with participation of the festival of the tribe, of the religious festivities or celebrations of the tribe, by painting, by dancing, by playing music, by building things, by carving things; everybody participates. Our civilization puts so much pressure to the child, very young, with the property, you have to be clean, and with the relationship of the group very tribal, and with the obligation to learn a lot of things very young, that you kill off those spontaneous expressions that pretty much everybody has. I'm pretty much sure that if you bring me every kind of kid of twelve, thirteen, fourteen before it's too late, and I make an artist, not maybe a genius, but a passable artist with him. And he will not be somebody who will do something like me.
SF: Yes. But something personal.
A: I'm pretty much sure of that. And that's personal things.
SF: You think there is this need in everybody? Everybody has a need of?
A: It's like the smell of everybody: everybody has a different smell. It's called, "odor sui generis." The sensitivity of sensibility of odor, is intellectual "odor sui generis."
A: - entre étrangers c'est très chouette [translation: - between strangers that is very nice.]
SF: [laugh] Yes. What do you think of the education of the audience?
A: Well, I guess it's most automatic. It's a question of civilization. A civilization like the American civilization way of life with a kind of leisure time, which means the human being works less and you have more time. When you have everything you need, when you have enough food, enough transportation, enough roof above the head.
SF: So you have time.
A: The next need is culture. The first next need is culture. Sure, for some-
SF: You think it's really a need?
A: Oh, that becomes very quickly a need. Because, even for very poor people it's a need. But that spreads out easier when you get everything you want. Because, what, it just kind of, that reminds me of the Bandarlog, the monkeys in the Rudyard Kipling novel, you know, the book of the jungle, The Jungle Book, there is always this desire of imitation. We are primates anyway. And we do everything. And when, if by any chance in a movie or visiting somebody, you see some improvement on the environment among everything you know usually.
SB: You see some improvement?
A: Improvement. Somebody has something hanging on the wall. Well, what is that? And that leads to questions. I guess it's not, the information of the audience becomes almost automatic. Sure, It can be helped.
SF: Yes, it can be helped.
A: Yes, it can be helped. The Musée [inaudible] exhibition is free. But I'm a little bit against the avant-garde on the street that I saw in New York.
SF: What do you mean by avant-garde on the street in New York?
A: Like very modern sculpture in the street.
SF: Oh, I see.
A: Very huge work. Because I see how people treat them. They spread them. They put posters on them. They scratch them.
SF: So you think that the audience in a way has to be educated to appreciate a work of art?
A: Well, yes and no. You are not to force the education. It's an automatic education, the average- And to create, to do something, is always to be in advance on the civilization. You don't do somethings, you don't do somethings for the average people. That's not true. Nobody does somethings, because if he does something for the average person he is not in revolt, who doesn't want to make-
SF: Well, who does he do it for?
A: He does it first for himself because he has the very strong impression that there can be some improvement. You take knowledge of history of art. As an artist, you know that some other artist did some things. And suddenly you don't accept it. If you accept what has been done completely and you agree completely, you have not the desire to do something yourself. Because, when you are very young, the only desire you have is to change the world. You believe you will change the world. After you become a little bit older, you see that you just put another layer of varnish on the civilization. But it's all right. But, it's impossible; it's exactly the same problem to educate all the audience would be to change the world. You can't change the world. It has to be done step by step. Now, the general audience is able to accept Impressionism and partially Cubism. But no more. And in twenty years there is an acceleration of the information. Information is a very interesting phenomenon with books, with color books, with tv, color tv, movies. These are mass media information, very strong. And this information always- When you see on the movie, on the adventure, comedy movie, on any kind of James Bond, modern architecture, modern painting, modern design, you impress the imagination of the average people who don't really have contact with that. And that's part of the education. It's auto-education by accumulation of information. And you can help it but you can't force it.
SF: Yeah, I understand, yeah. And what do you think, so, might be the role of the art critic? Do you think he must just show the work of art as it is? Or do you think he has to interpret it?
A: The art critic?
A: The art critic is a, must be a kind of witch doctor.
SF: A witch doctor?
A: Yes. He has to play between different strengths. He has to play to, he has to mix different ingredients. One is the knowledge or acceptance of the audience. The other is the imagination and creativity of the artist. And it's a very difficult role because, on the way, he is like a witch doctor: he has to help the artist sometimes to bear, to give birth to this world or his imagination by some positive or negative position. The artist has to be enough individual to keep his individuality anyway. And to bring those to the audience, too, that is very important, because the audience is not completely aware and can take most everything as a good product. And I guess it's a very diffi- the art critic has a very difficult position like a découvreur. Comment on dit? [translation: How do we say?]
SF: A discoverer? Somebody who discovers.
A: A discoverer. And make a quite clear discovery because, okay, for sure.
SF: Or "searcher", searcher.
A: A searcher, yes, a searcher. A talent scout; a searcher. But it's a little bit different than the talent scout because he has to be, not aware of what is the need of the audience, but aware of what he's bringing the artist. Because when we take the phenomenon of Noland, who makes circles part of his life, makes circle, very well-made circles, some art historians say, well, but Sonia Delaunay before him made circles with simultanism. But when Noland take off completely out of any kind of aesthetic context, the circle, there were some L's on the very large canvas and very pure composition less mixed up and less Cubist than Delaunay, there were somethings bring, bring, brought, brought, sorry, had been brought. And it's important that an art critic has been able to see what has been brought. But, if somebody else now made circles like Noland and maybe a little bit more attractive, but with some more fancy colors, but doesn't bring nothing, the art critic has to be able to see what is not bring, brought. And that's quite important. A kind of division- It's a difficult trouble. He can be wrong. He is wrong a lot of times.
SF: That's what I mean. He has-
A: But he has to- It's a little bit like a judge will separate the good con from the bad one.
SF: It's so difficult.
A: And sometimes you are pushed, even if you have a good con and a bad. But you have to have enough guts to come back and, well, it's a kind of game. They are a witch doctor like in a tribe, when, the young men they have to prove that they are men and they have a lot of épreuves. Comment on dit? [translation: "tests". How do we say?] A lot of-
A: Experience to complete, a lot of, to get their badge as a male of the tribe. And the artist in the society has a kind of le barrage de la virilité [virility dam], the virility obstacle to pass, dam to pass. And it's quite interesting. And one role of the critic is to make things difficult for the artist, but in a good way, a positive way, and easier for the audience in a good way, too.
SF: Yes. Arman, as a French artist and European artist, and in your case living half a year in New York.
A: A little bit more than a half a year.
SF: A little bit more; eight months.
A: Seven or eight months.
SF: Do you think that there is in a way a difference between European artists and American artists? Do you think that they approach art in a different way? What do you think?
A: No that much. Maybe the relationship with the society is a little bit different. But the approach-
SF: The relationship is not the same?
A: Yes. I could see many American artists who are living for years in Europe, like Sam Francis, Jenkins, or Cy Twombly, become really like the others. And I could see a lot of European artists after a few years, like Claes Oldenberg, no, not really Claes Oldenberg, well he was born in Sweden, but, or like Marisol who was basically educated in Europe, or like Fahlström, Öyvind Fahlström. I could see them, after a time, living, but really living, not just passing a month or two months, in America. live like- . I guess if they are artists, they react alike; the same kind of animals. But the relationship, the basic relationship with society is the same. The society will like winners here, more than the European society.
SF: Now, speaking of the civilization, these two different civilizations, the European one and the American one, now, it's a kind of globalism now. But do you think that it can influence the artist?
A: Oh, yes.
SF: That's what I mean; that's why I'm asking you this question.
A: The biggest influence has been the result, the famous result, the Pop art. The introduction of this life of everyday on the output with so strong feeling and so great originality, the originality on the American side. That has been quite strong.
SF: It's really the American side they're emphasizing?
SF: And would you say that Pop Art in a way has influenced you? Or?
A: Not that much. I'm not very much a Pop artist. I'm more post-surrealist, post-Dadaist, than really a Pop artist. I maybe have been influenced by the country, by the society, by the production.
SF: Production in this case.
A: I'm fascinated by all the phenomenon which is production, construction, Manhattan is a big accumulation and everything. That I've been very influenced by that, more than by Pop art itself.
SF: You know, Arman, do you think that emotional stability and financial security have an influence on the artist and on the way he creates?
A: In his work?
A: Oh, yes, certainly. And through the history of art we can see through the emotional life, and sometimes the financial security of some of the artists, some transformation. And I really believe that it's generally about the same kind of transformation and the same kind of reaction. We are a little bit less individual than we would like to believe or to guess we are.
SF: Less individual?
A: Less individual. We react- You know, there are some primary reactions that when you divide that five or six times you get always some kind of pattern. And I'm pretty sure that emotional stability can bring a lot of possibilities to an artist, like, a little bit like the old expression some analysts use when they say, well, maybe you don't need an analysis, but you are like a V-8 engine which is working on six or five cylinders instead of eight. Sure some stability can- I believe that for every good artist, and by "good " artist I mean somebody who brought or is bringing something with him in the history of art, financial and emotional stability makes for improvement.
SF: It is necessary?
A: It is not always necessary. Sometimes you can make a masterpiece if you are really a genius and if you have enough things to say, without. But I believe that it can be an improvement.
SF: But do you think that- I was thinking of psychoanalysts, for instance. And, do you think that if an artist is more and more conscious of himself, I mean in life, do you think that that can in a way against his being creative?
A: It depends on what is the background of the artist.
SF: The background?
A: Yes. If he's used to intellectual discipline for a long time, the knowledge of himself will be an income. But if brutally, from just some instinctual behavior he has to face some of his own reality that he couldn't really afford, it could be a catastrophe.
SF: By catastrophe you mean if he wants, if he is more aware of himself?
A: Not aware of himself but if you start to ask him some questions, if he's not prepared, if he must be asking some questions: is it valuable or not? What is his position in life and society?
SF: He loses his spontaneity in a way?
A: He might. But if he's used to dealing with intellectual discipline for a long time, every kind of knowledge of himself or every kind of discovery of what are his primary, his deep reactions and what he is and what is the constitution of his work is an income. I'm pretty much sure of it. It's like if you take an African carver and you bring him, inject him into the civilization and start to make him to think what he's carving and to make a relationship with society and himself and in what he's doing, I'm afraid he might become completely impotent.
SF: Yes. I understand now in that sense, yes.
A: By chance he will be on the town, in a town like New York, in a civilization like America, everybody is quite well-trained to think through analysis or through the Talmud or through any kind of intellectual game or training.
SF: Are you concerned by the social and political problems of the day? Do you think that the artist-?
A: Well, political, yes, at least. Because they involve life itself. Social, less. They can interest me very selfishly if I can get something to eat. But political, they involve me more deeply because just the future of what we are and the future of the life. Sometimes it's very important.
SF: I was thinking that in general I think that the artists do remain outside the problems even though they remain [laugh]
A: La Tour d'Ivoire [Ivory Tower], as we say in France.
SF: Not la Tour d'Ivoire, no. I think more that they remain in their own world. And they have to remain there.
A: Yes. Okay. We try. It's always very good protection but it's difficult especially with the immensity of information, the strong, the strength or the power of the diffusion of information is that it's difficult to- You have to go on an island and cut the wire. It's very difficult. And I found that it's less difficult to cut the wire here in New York, for instance, than in Paris.
SF: Cut the wire off, yeah.
A: Because if you want to be a little bit solitary and work very hard, you can do it more easier in New York than in a town like Paris or London. Because you depend so much for the human relation here on the phone. If you don't answer your phone, you are quite a lonely couple.
SF: You can be alone?
A: Yes. And in London and in Paris, you're always outside and seeing people and you can't avoid to meet people. And everybody is drop in, visiting you without warning. Especially for Americans, it's quite shocking sometimes when you're living in Italy or the South of France or Spain that suddenly you hear somebody is knocking on the door. It's a friend, somebody is dropping in; like that. You don't feel that your time it's you, really.
SF: That the time is yours. Right.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
A: - under the pretext of selling arms, he was liquidating all that was not in use anymore [inaudible].
SF: Yes, yes. So how much time did you spend in Turkey?
A: In all two months, with [inaudible].
SF: You visited everything? You did -
A: Yes. I crossed from the East, from the East to the West, and from the West to the East, and from -
SF: By car, you did this?
A: On horseback.
SF: On horseback! Well. You did that alone?
A: [inaudible] I was with my wife and a friend, who was, who is still actually, who is now the expedition chief, he was the epigraphist of the French archeology expedition in Iran, that was in [place name] and in [place name].
SF: What is his name?
A: Father Sèvre, a Dominican monk.
SF: I feel that I've heard about him, I knew there was a monk, who -
A: For sure, he is very important, for sure. He made a quite important placket on [inaudible], and we went to Boğazköy, we went to Taissiri [phonetic], we went to see the, the, well, we went everywhere.
SF: You went to Pergamon too? Because, I dug there for two months.
A: You dug at Pergamon!
SF: Yes, because I studied archeology for -
A: In Izmir, Izmir -
SF: In Izmir there isn't much yet.
SF: It's nice, but -
A: Maybe not everything, but we pretty much went all around. I slept in Boğazköy under a tent.
SF: And how did you find -
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Arman, 1968 Apr. 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.