Arman’s series of “Robot Portraits” consists of the very personal effects of an individual who Arman knew well—so the portraits were almost always of a friend or a close acquaintance. The only exception to this strategy was when he made a series of portraits of such classical composers as Wagner, Beethoven, Bach, etc. In that case, he studied in detail many biographies of the respective subjects in order to capture with wit and intelligence their specific idiosyncrasies and habits.
For all of the other robot portraits, Arman himself would select the items he thought would best express the individual. So if you knew he was coming to make your portrait, you hid your most “precious” treasures because other wise there was a good chance he would use them in the portrait sometimes just to be mischievous!
He would never accept payments—nor commissions—for these works. They were gifts. Collectors, who were most thrilled with these works, would beg him to do their portrait, sending him cartons of pre-selected personal belongs. And Arman would send them right back.
My “Portrait Robot” by Arman
It was for my 27th birthday. I remember I used to take Spanish lessons back then so Arman knew I would be out of the house for several hours. I came home later that day and Arman led me into the dining room and presented me with my portrait, which he had hung there. I was overjoyed; it was such a wonderful surprise. But after the surprise wore off, I realized that my personal items had been arranged messily in the box—which certainly burst my bubble about how much of a neat freak and orderly person I had up to that point imagined myself to be. I wanted it to look like Arman’s portrait of Bernard Venet, in which everything was neatly folded and organized. But I discovered that these portraits told the truth! And I also discovered that they were as larcenous as magpies.
For the next several weeks, whenever I couldn’t find things, like my brand new Vuitton “envelope” bag—which I had never used—or my lion’s-head ring with a diamond, or even certain pairs of shoes, I would run and inspect the portrait to find the “missing” items. They were locked in, glued together on a wooden panel and sealed in a Plexiglas box for all eternity along with the three cigarettes (I smoked but not much), a copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, some costume jewelry, my favorite perfume (at the time “White Line”) and records by Jean-Pierre Rampal and Janis Joplin. Two of the items make me think of personal rituals between us: the small can of black truffles and the shavings from his beard. On those long ago mornings—and, no I’m not going to say how LONG ago!—I used to make him oeufs à la coque with truffles and, later, I trimmed his beard. How I loved to do that.