The Treatment of Vision:
The cachets of Arman, his self-described rubber stamp works from the mid-to-late fifties, have been regarded by art critics and historians as necessary first steps in his coming of age as an artist; an awakening fascination with commonplace objects that deepened as the artist’s career progressed.
It has been widely reported that his use of rubber stamps ended in 1959 or 1960, superseded by mature genres, such as the Allures, when objects, rather than rubber stamps, were dragged across the paper leaving their trace. Later in the Accumulations and Poubelles, the objects themselves became the focus of the artist’s attention; their collection and presentation framed and frozen in time.
In truth, rubber stamps have been a part of Arman’s work throughout his career, incorporated in and informing his later periods. His use of the rubber stamp has been the first sustained use of the medium by an artist since the Second World War.
His experimentations in the medium have influenced the work of other artists, who began to use the medium in his wake. The cachets are an important period not only in Arman’s career, but in the history of the rubber stamp medium itself.
The Rubber Stamp in Modern Art Previous to the Second World War
Rubber stamps developed in the mid-1800s, and it is safe to say that they did not find their way into the fine arts until the modernist period was well underway. It is hard to imagine Cezanne, Matisse, or Van Gough incorporating rubber stamps into their works, but there was one movement that sanctioned no limitations and was ever on the lookout for new horizons.
Dada art, arising in various cities of Europe (Zürich, Paris, Berlin) almost by spontaneous combustion in reaction to the absurdity of the First World War, was not above incorporating these commonplace marking devices into their quest for innovative art.
Kurt Schwitters, a German Dadaist from Hannover, was the first to incorporate these marking devices of the bourgeoisie into the new field of collage. Rubber stamps, newspaper headlines, bus tickets and other debris of everyday life, vied for attention in harmony with the modernist painting theories of Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism. Schwitters Stempelbilders were an important foundation of his Merz art and of profound importance on the cachets of Arman.
Fernand Leger shaped rubber stamp impressions into recognizable images, lacking the humor, which characterised Schwitter’s use of the medium. In 1914 he stamped out a purple wine bottle and a glass accompanied by the word stamp, “Service. Service. Service.” Later he would paint mechanical looking pictures. He was a believer in machines – tools that relieved man of repetitive tasks. Naturally, he embraced the rubber stamp.
The Italian Futurists, who formed even earlier than Dada, had rubber stamps made up for their various functions, such as their first Futurist Congress in 1924. Here we find rubber stamps used in one of their traditional roles: as logos for identity. The Futurists were nothing if not brilliant publicists. Their typographic letterheads were equally inventive, and they sent some of the first mail art by distributing tin postcards.
Many of the early modernist movements experimented with typography and this carried over to rubber stamp design. The Russian Futurists used rubber stamp text to accompany illustrations by Olga Rozanova in a book published in 1912. Artists of the Bauhaus, attempting to develop a functional art blending Modernist thought with consumer items, produced innovative rubber stamp designs, shaping their personal seals in creative means. Ocskar Schlemmer, later a well-known Hollywood animator, adopted a stark Art Deco design for his personal stamp.
Kasimir Malevitch, an early proponent of minimal design and monochrome painting, painted a letter complete with rubber stamp postmark in 1918. No doubt there were other such paintings closer to home incorporating rubber stamps and postmarks on letters, as the early American trompe l’oeil painters often painted missives set in arranged interior settings.
Marcel Duchamp, who seems to have initiated every artform of interest to the contemporary artist, including mail, performance, kinetic, and conceptual art, was also a forerunner of the eraser carved rubber stamp. In 1919, then living in Buenos Aires, he began a game of postal chess with his New York City patron Walter Arensberg, overseeing the carving of a pawn, knight, bishop, king, and queen to stamp out his moves.
Influences on the Art of Arman
To understand the work of Arman is to acknowledge his influences. Arman himself is never shy about this, ever willing to admit his admiration for those who have preceded and informed him. Arman’s art is both a cerebral and spiritual quest, in sync with Duchamp’s admonition against retinal art, and studies of Zen Buddhism, Rosicrucianism, Gurdjeff and astrology with his friend Yves Klein, the painter of monochromes, who Arman met in Nice when he was 19.
In 1947, Yves Klein was sent from Paris by his parents to live under the care of his aunt in Nice, hoping that the 18 year old would find some direction in his life. Unlike his artistic parents, who were often traveling and in constant financial peril, Klein’s mother’s sister Rose, maintained a stable existence as the proprietor of an appliance store.
Klein’s aunt made space in her shop for a bookstore, which Klein managed. His close friend Claude Pascal has related that, “Yves did what he wanted. He ordered books more for himself than for business.” Arman himself has noted that although books were available, people came mainly to buy radios and record players, and that the books were but an indulgence that a well-intentioned aunt provided. Klein only worked two hours a say, purchasing art, philosophy, judo and poetry works that he himself was interested in.1
Arman, born Armand Fernández, had met Claude Pascal and Yves Klein at the local police athletic league center, where the three had enrolled in judo classes. With judo as their initial bond, the friends began to spend time together and explore common interests. Pascal was a poet, and brought his interest in writing and literature to the group.
Arman was a student at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Nice, where he was preparing for a career as a decorator or auctioneer, following in the footsteps of his father, who was an antique dealer. Arman also had an interest in painting, and was successfully selling palette-knife landscapes in local souvenir shops.
Arman has recalled that Klein, with his previous experience of living in Paris and assimilating his parent’s familiarity with the latest art trends, was a valued source of information about Surrealism, existentialism, and contemporary abstract painting. Klein presented Arman with the exhibition catalogue, Le Surréalisme en 1947, with a foam breast by Duchamp on the cover, as a birthday gift in 1948.
Rather than focus on artistic investigations, the three friends bonded in their spiritual studies. As Sidrah Stich relates in her book on Yves Klein, “Judo provided a point of departure. At first, they supplemented the physical practice they were being taught in class with readings about the Zen and Buddhist underpinnings of judo and its developmental history in Japan. From this they moved to a fascination with astrology, which then led to a study of Rosicrucian philosophy. The book by Max Heindel, La cosmogonie des Rose-Croix, soon became a guiding force that was complemented by the instruction of Louis Cadeaux, a local Rosicrucian practitioner and astrologer. For about a year, the three visited with their septuagenarian mentor twice a week, and through him made contact with the Rosicrucian Society of Oceanside, California. Klein and Pascal joined the society in June 1948 (Arman lost interest and did not join) and proceeded to follow a rigorous course of learning that entailed preparing biweekly written exercises in response to lessons sent from the headquarters abroad or from Paris.”2
Arman, Klein and Pascal would often mediate on the roof of the building in which Arman lived. Meditation and fasting produced a light-headed feeling of leaving their bodies. This had profound implications for Klein, who later became obsessed with the implications of the void in his artistic creations.
The three friends also retreated to the basement of Arman’s father’s furniture store. It had a low ceiling and was very dark; a kind of cave, where Klein painted his first monochrome blue painting, and Arman decorated a wall with images of tools. Both were to figure prominently in the latter works of the two men.
In 1948, the three friends decided to change their names “in the spirit of play and occult empowerment.” Klein dropped his family name, appearing as the author Yves in a 1954 booklet of monochrome colors. Armand Fernández adopted the name Armand, which was later shortened to Arman in the wake of a typesetter’s error, which he nevertheless adopted. Claude Pascal became Pascal Claude.
Military service interrupted the bond between Klein, Arman and Pascal. Klein was sent to French-occupied Germany, where he stayed for eleven months, training in artillery. There he dreamed of travelling to Japan to continue his Judo lessons and spiritual quest. Arman, having met his wife-to-be, Eliane Radigue (married 1953), did not join Klein and Pascal, who traveled to England and Ireland in 1949 in preparation for their longer trip.
Arman moved to Paris in 1949 to study archaeology and Oriental art at the Ecole du Louvre, with the intention of becoming an auctioneer. He continued painting in a Surrealist style. He left school in 1951 to join Klein in Madrid, where he was teaching at the Bushido-Kai judo school. Klein left for Japan at the end of the year, returning to France two years later.
Arman entered military service in 1952, serving in the medical corps of the French marines. He was assigned briefly to Vietnam.
The relationship of Klein and Arman was fixed in their childhood years of youthful exuberance. Klein’s metaphysical bent was offset by Arman’s materialism. As Arman later noted, “We had divided the world between us, like the empire builders. (Klein) had said to me ‘I will concern myself with what is organic, and you will take what is manufactured. ‘”3
Nowhere does this manifest itself quite so clearly as in their separate exhibitions at the Iris Clert Gallery. Klein’s exhibition Le Vide of 1958 presented the gallery stripped bare. In 1960, Arman’s exhibition Le Plein, completely filled the same gallery with refuse from the streets of Paris. There are other instances where the artists work converge. Arman’s allures, inked objects dragged across paper and canvas surfaces, begun in 1958, may have inspired the “living paintbrushes” of Klein’s Anthropometry series of 1960.
They were charter members of the Nouveau Réalisme group, which was inaugurated in Klein’s apartment in October of 1960. The critic Pierre Restany, a friend of both Klein and Arman, encouraged the group and drafted a manifesto linking them to the new tendencies in contemporary art.
The “First Manifesto of Nouveau Réalisme,” drafted by Restany on April 16, 1960, reads in part: “Today we are witnessing the exhaustion and sclerosis of all the established vocabularies, of all the languages, of all the styles. This deficiency-through exhaustion-of traditional resources, is being counteracted by individual approaches scattered across Europe and America. These tendencies, whatever their field of exploration, define a normative basis of a new expression.”
“It has nothing to do with an additional formula for oil or encaustic media. Easel painting (like no other classical means of expression in the domain of painting or sculpture) has had its day. It is in its last moment -still sometimes sublime- of a long monopoly…”
We are moving towards a new realism of pure sensibility in the arena of total emotional expression and individual creative eloquence, despite the apparent eccentricity of certain experiments. Here, at the very least, is a path to the future. Diverse points of departure are being established in Paris by Yves Klein and Tinguely, Hains and Arman, Dufrene and Villeglé…’4
Their careers continued as though hinged, ending abruptly on June 6, 1962, when Klein passed away from a heart attack. Just a month previous to his death, Klein had exhibited a portrait relief of Arman at the Galerie Creuze in Paris in a section devoted to Nouveau Réaliste artists.
Upon his premature death at the age of 34, Klein became a legendary figure in the artworld. Arman’s work continues unabated. But there can be no mistaking the great impact Klein has had on his life and work. Perhaps, as the art historian Jan van der Marck has written, “Arman has always been very much his own man. Close as he was to Yves Klein, and much as he had shared with him, there is no evidence that Klein’s influence on Arman went farther than their generally beneficial and mutually supportive professional friendship.”5 Still, it cannot be denied that the two friends shared a profound experience during their early years in Nice and a continuing professional relatinship, which colored both of their lives.
Klein had returned to Paris after his adventure in Spain to open a Judo Academy. He also sought entry into the Parisian artworld with his monochrome paintings by submitting an all orange work to the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. To his surprise, the work was rejected in a salon open to all entries of nonfigurative art. Refusing to add an additional dash of color to please the Administrative Committee, he organized a protest of his friends to shout slogans during the opening of the exhibition.
Klein then arranged to show some twenty monochrome paintings under the sponsorship of the Club des Solitaires, in the showrooms of the publishing house Editions Lacosete, a location well of the beaten track of the established art galleries. The exhibition that opened on October 15, 1955 received very little notice, but it did attract the attention of the young art critic Pierre Restany, who was to become the leading spokesperson for Klein’s work during and after his death.
“At the time, Restany was working as an aide to the Minister of Public Works, Transportation, and Tourism, writing art criticism on the side. He had recently renewed contact with Arman, whom he had first met in 1949 when he was traveling in Nice with the de Gaulle entourage (he was then an aide to one of the generals’ top associates) and received security protection from Arman, who worked off-hours as a bodyguard defending the Gaullists in their increasingly violent struggles with the Communists. Not long after Restany’s visit to the Club des Solitaires exhibition, Klein telephoned to him and then, on December 1, Arman introduced the two…”6
Restany writes in a 1968 catalog essay on Arman for an exhibition at the Galleria Schwarz in Milan, Italy, on the important first steps Arman was taking towards his goal of becoming an artist.
“It all began in 1955: Arman(d) Fernandez is 26 years old. He makes his living selling furniture in Nice, and at night he turns to skin-diving to feed himself. His free time is dedicated to “fine art painting in the taste of the moment, – post-cubism, at first figurative, and later abstract. But our Sunday painter had had a large shock while he was still a boy – his meeting with Yves Klein in 1946 had left him deeply impressed. In the imaginative delirium of his friend he had more or less consciously intuited the presence of an idea of the future, a forerunner, a cosmic perception. and there remained in him a desire for a higher expressive dimension, for a way of seeing and feeling more consonant with the exigencies of the present. And time passed, but the impression and the friendship endured. In 1955, the dream-intoxicated adolescents have grown into men. On his return is possession of a fourth dan black-belt title, Judo master Yves Klein exhibited his first monochrome paintings – his spectacular adventure has begun and nothing will bring it to a halt. Arman comes briefly up to Paris – for just long enough to become impregnated with the energy of Klein, to ask me for a bit of advice, and to take in a Schwitters show at Berggruen. And this is the moment in which something clicks, the moment in which the little man from Nice with ‘painting in his guts’ discovers the expressive power of the object in itself.”
“And it is now that we find the first of the Cachets – impressions of inked rubber stamps on paper, an effort that slowly takes on an ever larger importance and that becomes his first formulation of the notion of quantitative expression: the repetition of a gesture that tends towards an accumulation of objective unities. Struck by the incredible richness of the result, by the sumptuousness of the colors of the inks, and by the density of the texture of the image, I encourage Arman to see big and ever bigger in this direction, and following my council, be began to work in terms of increasingly larger formats. The Cachets of 1958 are the biggest and the most beautiful. They are also the last…”7
Although he has the advantage of being a first-person participant in the life of Arman, Restany’s historical accounting lacks accuracy in several respects. The Schwitters exhibition at the Berggruen Gallery took place in 1954, and Arman’s use of rubber stamps did not cease in 1958.
Arman himself comments on his first exposure to Schwitters work. “It was, I believe, in 1954, at an exhibition of Schwitters held at the Berggruen Gallery. The show was made up entirely of small pieces. Among them were one or two larger pieces using rubber stamps.”8
At that time, Schwitters was relatively unknown to all but aficionados of contemporary art in France. The Berggruen exhibition was the first show of Schwitters work in the country, and would be his last until 1980, when the Galerie Gmurzynska from Cologne, Germany, exhibited at the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Paris. Indeed, Dada art, in which Schwitter’s participated, was also devalued in French artistic circles. The first major French exhibition of Dada art took play only in 1966 to celebrate the movement’s fiftieth anniversary.9
Werner Schemalenback, who organized the first Schwitters retrospective of Schwitter’s work in the artist’s hometown of Hannover, Germany, at the Kestner-Gesellschaft, which opened in February 4, 1956, tells of going to Schwitter’s son’s home in Oslo, Norway, in January 1955, and unveiling the bulk of Schwitter’s work in large chests which had not been opened since Schwitter’s flight to England twenty years previous.
When the question of prices were raised between Schemalenback and Schwitter’s son Ernst, they used the Berggruen Gallery exhibition, which had occured a few months previously, as a yardstick. Now worth millions of dollars, the works on display in Paris were “on sale for a couple of hundred marks.” Two weeks before the Hanover retrospective, “Heinz Berggruen came over from Paris and acquired twelve of the finest collages at (25,000 marks). And so they had established themselves objectively as the new market prices. And they went on climbing.”10
Not only did Schwitter’s prices climb, but his influence on advanced artists during Arman’s formative years also increased. The post-Abstract Expressionist generation, “hailed Schwitters as the father of an artistic revolution that led art away from the traditional realms of Great Art into the world of ordinary life, the freedom of everyday events…Thus Schwitters became part of the cultural debate of an age that sought to merge the major and the minor arts into the highstreet, bringing them closer to the people and their festivals and to popular consumption”11
Werner Schemalenbach states that, “I believe the exhibition took place at the right historical moment, of perhaps a trifle early. Just then a neo-Dadist trend was beginning in America -though we still knew nothing about it- with artists like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, two artists who both respected Schwitters; later I found that they both possessed works by Schwitters. Some time after the Hanover exhibition the Nouveaux Realistes appeared in Paris, amongst whom Arman particularly declared himself to be a follower of Schwitters. Schwitters increasingly became – along with Marcel Duchamp – a kind of father figure for contemporary art.12
Serge Lemoine, writing about Schwitter’s influence on contemporary art, also states that, “From Arman to Tinguely by way of Daniel Spoerri, a large section of New Realism originates in his collages – the works of Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé, Mimmo Rotella, Wolf Vostell, made from fragments of torn posters, come directly from them.”13
Schwitters, born in 1887, was raised in a prosperous middle class environment in Hannover, Germany. The gardens of his family home contained both fountains and rubber trees. He finished his secondary education in 1908, and embarked upon a life in art, studying for a short while in Berlin, consequently enrolling in the Kunstakademie in Dresden.
His paintings of this period reveal a fondness for traditional landscapes. Between 1914 and 1918 there is a shift towards abstraction and Cubo-Futurism. When the military drafted him in 1917, he arranged to have himself assigned instead as a draftsman, remaining in his hometown.
When the Weimer Republic was established in the winter of 1918-1919, Schwitters quit his job and devoted himself to art. Artists and intellectuals all over Germany were released from the tensions and frustrations of the war, and faced the prospects of a new start.
“For Schwitters, the new order was literally to be made from the remnants of the old. ‘Everything had broken down…new things had to be made from fragments.’ That winter of 1918-19 he started to make collages and assemblages from all kinds of refuse and found materials: “new art forms out of the remains of a former culture.”14
Schwitters had attached himself to one of the most progressive German art associations of the time. Der Strum promoted a blend of modernism comprised of Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism and Dada under the tutelage of Herwarth Walden. Although Schwitters had previously visited the galleries of Der Sturm in 1917, he signed his name for the first time in their guestbook on June 27, 1918.
Der Strum had become a cultural monolith, for besides the gallery, they published the magazine Der Sturm, ran a school, managed a theater, held evenings of poetry, and maintained a wide network of international contacts in the avant-garde. Galerie Dada in Zürich, the birthplace of the movement, received works from Walden for exhibition, as did the Société Anonyme in New York, with whom Marcel Duchamp was associated.
Saturation in the swift currents of Berlin artistic life, left an indelible impression on Schwitters, and he began to absorb the lessons of new friends like Hans Arp, who had direct contact with new trends in art such as collage and Dada.
Collage had been invented by Picasso and Braque in 1912, and was practised widely before Schwitters began his work in the medium. Arp published a book in Germany on French painting in which he emphasized the importance of Picasso as an innovator of “new materials.’ Arp’s first collages date from 1914. One of Schwitters first collages was titled, Hans (1918). In this work and others, Schwitters used a new principle of composition, based on a balance between horizontal and vertical which he took from Arp, who had in turn been strongly influenced since 1916 by Sophie Taeuber’s experiments.
In the collage Hans, the use of text is limited, becoming more prevalent the following year, when words exploded in his collage, rubber stamp, typographical and poetical works. The year 1919 was a breakthrough for Schwitters, which determined the course of his artistic life.
He not only produced his first assemblages and collages, published the poem “Anna Blume,” which catapulted him to national prominence, but created his first rubber stamp drawings, or Stempelzeichnungen. At the end of 1919 he began calling his work Merz; a movement of one, the name of which first appeared as a fragment in one of his collages.
His use of the rubber stamp in the Stempelbilder series from 1919 to 1923, were a perfect manifestation of Schwitter’s desire to link textual and visual elements through new media. He noted in 1920 that “It is through artistic necessity that I have devoted myself to different forms of art. The reason was not some instinctive need to expand the area of my activity, but the aspiration to be, not a specialist in a single form of art, but an artist.”
“My objective is the total work of Merz art, drawing all the arts towards artistic unity. First I combined different arts. I made collages with words and phrases organized so that they produced a rhythmic picture. On the other hand, I have made collages of pictures and drawings that enable one to read phrases. I have nailed pictures together so that, in addition to the depictive effect of the picture, they produce a sculptural relief effect. I did this to blurr the boundaries between the different arts.15
Schwitter’s “rhythmic picture” could be made in any media. Anything capable of producing Merz was acceptable, and most things were. As Schwitter’s developed his technique with the rubber stamp, they departed from the company of his drawings and collages and began appearing by themselves.
“What art is, you know as well as I do: it is nothing more than rhythm. And if that’s true, I don’t have to burden myself with imitation or with soul, but can modestly and simply give you rhythm, in any material whatsoever: bus tickets, oil pints, building blocks, that’s right, you heard me, building blocks, or words in poetry, or sounds in music, or you just name it. That’s why you mustn’t look too hard at the material; because that isn’t what it’s all about. Don’t look for some hidden imitation of nature, don’t ask about expressions of the soul, but try, in spite of the unusual materials, to catch the rhythm of the forms and the colors. This has about as much to do with bolshevism as a flapper’s hairdo. It is however the essence of all art, i.e., that every artwork throughout history has had to fulfill this primary requirement: be be rhythm, or else it isn’t art.16
What better medium to convey this rhythm than a rubber stamp? The impression is directed at a tempo of the artist’s devising. There is a directness associated with the stamp that makes this an ideal tool for spontaneous action. We will see this developed later in the rubber stamp works of Arman. But decades previous, Schwitter’s was paving the way for innovative approaches to new materials.
Schwitters graphic art from the beginnings of the Merz period from 1918 to 1923 takes several forms: classified either as Dadaist drawings or rubber-stamp drawings. The Dadaist drawings often incorporate typographical or collage elements. The rubber stamp drawings combine typographical and graphic forms, as well as the inked impressions from the hand stamp.
According to John Elderfield, one of the artist’s most preeminent scholars, the rubber stamp drawings of Kurt Schwitters form three general groups. First noting that Schwitter’s did not number his works, or give them any generic title, as with other of his works, and that the number of such works are impossible to guess at, nevertheless, he goes on to group them by their stylistic nuances.
“Those in the first, and probably the earliest (dating mostly from 1919), contain images similar to those in the Dadaist drawings, though now more openly distributed across the sheets and complemented by the patterns of the repeated rubber-stamp phrases.”
“Second, a group of fifteen drawings reproduced in Schwitters’ Sturm-Bilderbuch IV of 1920. Some of these resemble the drawings of the first group; others, however, instead of seeming to contain two distinct sets of structural elements (stamped-on phrases and Dadaist drawing), use only fragments of applied drawing, which are now largely subordinated to the typographical elements themselves, to create a far less anecdotal effect. Moreover, among the stamped-on words and phrases are pieces of stamp edging, small price tags, circular rubber stamps, and occasionally pieces of cut and torn paper. To a large extent, these take the place of the earlier drawn elements, and although they are often reinforced by hand-drawn marks (circular stamps changed into cog-wheels, lines into levers, and trains and windmills rested on these line), the effect of these works is not only more inherently abstract than the others but as close to that of collage as of drawing.”
“The third group of rubber-stamp drawings (nearly all the later ones, from 1923) dispense entirely with hand-made additions, but since they also, generally speaking, dispense with anything other than repeated, stamped phrases they seem far closer to Schwitters’ abstract poetry of the mid 1920s than to his collages.”17
Beatrix Nobis confirms the “randomness” of this third group of Schwitter’s latter rubber stamp drawings. “In his Stempelbilder (rubber stamp drawings) the destructive aspect of the spatial element develops; the words distributed on the paper in an apparently haphazard way, continually repeated and, sometimes, simply fragments of words without meaning (Bussum, Amsterdam) introduce us to the ‘rules of chance’ (Hans Arp) as if this was some game, transmitting to us the liberating notion that the world contains an incalculable quantity of forms to which the artist may resort once his is freed from the conventions and doctrinaire demands of the spectator.”18
This random aspect of Schwitters rubber stamp drawings, is clearly shown in his work of 1922, Anna Blume, which repeats several stamps, including a textual stamp (Anna Blume), a square stamp (Mitglied) and a rectangular stamp (Diese Zeichnung) in a random order. Only several crayon marks reaffirm the geometric patterning that is more characteristic of Schwitters work.19
Bussum (1923), to which Nobis refers, is a pure rubber stamp work, having no other markings save the impression Bussum repeated twenty-six times. It is not completely random, in that it consists of several geometric patterns, but it departs from the representational figuration that marks the earlier works.
Amsterdam (1923), which Nobis also cites, looks like a close cousin to Bussum with nineteen repetitions of the impression in random non-figurative patterns. Unlike Bussum, it is accompanied by collage elements.
Although his divisions are somewhat arbitrary, Elderfield notes that almost all of the rubber stamp drawings contain elements of humor. In his work of 1919, Komisches Tier (The Funny Beast), the humor is derived from the drawing of an indeterminate small animal striding across the page. An address stamp (Berlin-Friedenau/Rheingaustrabe 23) is scattered about to flush out the design of the work, along with torn paper and additional drawings of wheels and numbers.
Another work sans titre from 1919, (Drucksache) (Printed Matter), contains a small figure atop a church steeple for it’s humorous effect. The rubber stamp, Drucksache, is used as a horizontal element to balance the vertical drawings. This work is accompanied by collage elements as well.
In the work, Der Kritiker (The Critic), from 1921, drawing is downplayed, except for some arrows spewing from the mouth and eyes of a stick-like figure. The humor of the piece derives from the use of the rubber stamps (Der Strum, Herwarth Walden, Belegexemplar, and various numbers) in the formation of the figure, whose most prominent feature is the hair composed of nine impressions of the words Der Strum.
Elderfield suggests that most of the rubber stamps were taken from the mail room of Sturm. Drucksache (Printed Matter), Belegexemplar (Voucher Copy), Herwarth Walden, Berlin-Friedenau and various address stamps, imply this.
The rubber stamp drawings are not dissimilar to Schwitter’s interest in typography. His cover of Anna Blume (1919), bears a striking resemblance to the Stempelbilder, with the rubber stamps displaced by typographical elements.
Later in his life, typography would become a principle interest of Schwitter’s. Aside from the publication of his own MERZ magazine, he was the official graphic designer for the Hannover City Council, producing works for the city of his birth from 1929 to 1934. Schwitter’s was also the president of the Ring Neue Werbegestalter, an organization which included the greatest German graphic designers of the period, and a number of notable foreign members. This interest “can be explained in terms of the privileged relationship with words, letters and numbers established in his works from the very start, his constant activity as a poet, and his particular taste for letters, alphabet and writing.”20
Elderfield submits that, “It could well be that Schwitters’ interest in typography, which dates from the time of these first cover designs, also motivated the rubber-stamp drawings. Certainly, it is fast becoming difficult to dissociate the separate aspects of Schwitters’ art.”21
In his collage, typographical and rubber stamp works, we see that Schwitters has combined scraps of typography, stamp impressions and drawings in rhythmic patterning. The freedom of the rubber stamp as a source of the spontaneity of these patterns cannot be underestimated. The ease and comfort of the marking device allowed him quicker intuitive leaps then the scissors used in cutting paper, or the setting of type in his published works. As a result, the graphic discoveries derived from the rubber stamp drawings may very well have informed the composition of the works in other media.
In her aptly named essay, Establishing Relationships with Everything in the World, Beatrix Nobis situates the importance of Schwitter’s rubber stamp works at the very core of his formulation of Merz art.
“The typographical discoveries of the Stempelbilder, their occasional ‘formlessness’ and the ironical destruction of language through the liquidation of its informative content, its logical communicative capacity, serve to pave the way for the arrival of Merz art; they mark the end of a development which Schwitters used firstly to assimilate the artistic pluralism of his age and secondly, despite the distinctly disrespectful attitude of his constantly changing stylistic imitations, to define his position as the singular representative of a completely new expressive language with no known precedents.”22
Schwitters was always uneasy with his association with Dada, and this is one reason he formulated the notion of Merz. He was far less political than the Berlin Dadaists, and although friendly with many of them, was always weary of their strident political posturing. In 1923, a profound change takes place in his work after a trip to Holland and the publication of Merz 1.
With rare exceptions, rubber stamps no longer figured prominently in his work, and his focus on typography embraces a cleaner, balanced more disciplined style in the manner of his new friend Theo Van Doesburg, who advanced an approach to art beyond the senselessness of the Dadaists. “The age of destruction has completely finished,” he wrote in a manifesto of 1923. “A new age is beginning, the age of construction.”23
In that same year,Schwitters wrote that “the Dada artist surpasses himself through Dada. Profoundly logical, he rises above the compromising absurdity that he reveals. Only the most rigorous construction offers freedom from savage chaos…”24
Schwitters turn to Constructivism, and his travels around Holland promoting the newest artistic tendencies of the day, influenced a young Dutch typographer, who would one day provide Arman with the insight to unlock the richness of Schwitter’s rubber stamp art.
H. N. Werkman
When Arman returned to Nice in late 1954 from his visit to Paris, and the viewing of the Schwitter’s exhibition at the Berggruen Gallery, he began his first rubber stamp works and small collages. Years later, when asked why he used the stamps, he answered, “Because they also correspond to the discovery in Art d’Aujoud’hui of Dutch typographer Werkman and the accumulations of letters and words. By combining the two, I tried to do something with the rubber stamps.”25
The Art d’ Aujoud’hui article on Werkman, written by W. J. H. B. Sandberg, appeared in the February/March 1952 issue (Vol. 3, No. 3/4) of the magazine. Arman saw the magazine a year after it first appeared.26 It contained a number of Werkman’s typographical works, including graphics from his calendar (Turkenkalender, 1941) and magazine (The Next Call, 1924). Prominently reproduced was a graphic composed of four vertical rows of double block lettered M’s on top of which rested two O’s. From the bottom of the column, the word LENIN juts horizontally.
Arman spoke of his introduction to the work of Werkman in a 1965 interview. “I was absolutely blown away. He was the one who made these ‘blocks’ with ‘Lenin, Lenin. Lenin’ or ‘MMM’ repeated, these ‘blocks’ are like stamps. Between this formula and that of Schwitters – since I was working in an office and had a bunch of rubber stamps available at the time – I was tempted to use them to make compositions that were, moreover, somewhat based on the formula of an abstract painting.27
Six years younger then Schwitter’s, H. N. Werkman was born in Groningen, Holland, in 1882. He became the owner of a printing shop, and by the start of the 1920s was employing some thirty workman.
He was well aware of his fellow countryman Theo Van Doesburg and the artists of the De Stijl group, having printed the magazine Blad voor Kunst (Art News). He had begun drawing and painting in 1917, when, at thirty-five, his first wife died, and he was left with three children to raise.
After his business failed, Werkman moved his print shop to a warehouse in 1923, taking two assistants with him. With little business before him, he began printing in a new technique. Considering this period a turning point in his life, he wrote some twenty years later that, “Looking at it from a conventional point of view, I declined as rapidly in a couple of years as I had progressed in ten. But like a wet poodle I shook of(f) everything which was hindering me and then stood for awhile almost alone. Frankly, sometimes I didn’t even understand myself. But I always thought, ‘What you lose now is really something won.’ I never mourned seeming losses. But the situation was dismal indeed; no wonder that the first prints which I made at that time were dark and gloomy.”28
It is ironic that this same year, 1923, marked Schwitters turn away from the Stempelbilder, and towards the publication of his magazine Merz, which reflected his interest in the geometric rigor of vertical and horizontal planes of Constructivism. Werkman, too, began the publication of a magazine, The Next Call, which included examples of his new prints.
The magazine, in which these works first appeared, were sent to his friends and to all the avant-garde periodicals of which he was aware: to Ceernik in Czeckoslovakia, Michel Seuphor in Paris, Peeters in Antwerp, the Blok Group in Poland, Mitchitz in Yugoslavia. 29 At least one issue of The Last Call is in the collection of Arman.30
Where Schwitters typographical work of this period is geometrically fastidious, Werkman’s prints are associative, marked by a richness of color, and the addition of curves and circles. Like Schwitters, Werkman took the refuse of his surroundings, in his case the remnants of his once prosperous print shop, raiding it for materials in which to compose his new works.
The failure of Werkman as a businessman freed him in his artistic endeavors. Large wooden letters used for posters were twisted and turned in a spirit of associative play. Often the reverse side of the blocks were used, the grain of the wood forming an important compositional element. He called the prints Drucksels.
In a work of 1923, Schornsteine, Werkman seeks to recreate the feel of the city with a series of blocks forming smokestacks. Darker tones are placed over lighter ones, the lightness produced by a softer impression. Although produced from wooden blocks, they mirror the impressions of a rubber stamp in their uneven application of pressure.
Another work from the next year, Composition from The Next Call (Number 4), relies on the compositional effects of various letters and numbers . Combining the letters (O, M, D, I) and the numbers (1, 2, 3), the work is a tightly knit abstraction. The M and D rest on their side, exploring the visual properties of the various elements.
According to Alaistar Johnston, the editor of Ampersand, the newsletter for San Francisco’s Pacific Center for the Book Arts, who lectured on Werkman in December 1995, Werkman obtained his typographical effects by reversing the normal printing process. Instead of laying the printing blocks in the press bed and overlaying paper on top of them before printing, Werkman put the paper in the bed of the press, and then overlayed the blocks, after which he applied pressure to produce the print. Perhaps this reverse process accounts for the unevenness of the printing, which so resembles the imprint of a rubber stamp.
In an accounting of Werkman’s printing methods, we are treated to an excellent description by Dick Dooijes, who authored a monograph on the artist in 1970.
“For his prints, Werkman the artist borrowed the materials from Werkman the printer, but otherwise they differ in every respect from ordinary print work. They were not printed normally by a press, no was there any question of running off copies from a printer’s forme, except in one or two cases when a small edition was issued of, for instance, the Hot Printing (sic) series of 1935-1937 and the Blauwe Schuit publications, such as the Hasidic Legends.”
“These products of pictorial expression arose in the same way as paintings, through the application of colour after colour and shape after shape on the basic vehicle, the paper. But no brush was used in making them, the picture was built up from printer’s matter (letters, lines, tint blocks), and the prints were produced on the hand press, not from a locked forme but one by one. Fifty trial printings for a single print were sometimes necessary before Werkman was satisfied with the result.”
“Working thus, he still remained ‘the printer,’ he still kept close to the normal use of the printer’s equipment, even if he did sometimes prefer to employ the back of a wooden poster letter rather than the face. But the letters and signs he incorporated into his prints lose their significance as reading matter; they become independent form elements, their striking silhouettes are construction factors in his compositions, both the non-figurative and the figurative ones.”
“In the following period Werkman ceased to use the hand press, and his prints were no longer printed. He began to stamp with the items of printer’s equipment we have mentioned, achieving a picturesque effect by applying paint thickly. One important tool for him was the printer’s roller, with which he made large transparent colour surfaces, sometimes with the help of stencils, of which he used both faces to delimit the desired design. Sometimes, too, he used the edge of the roller, making lines which are clearly defined on one side and fade away on the other.”31
Did Werkman himself ever use a rubber stamp in his work? Certainly he knew of their existence. In fact, there is a reference to his using one as early as 1899, when a stamp, “H. N. Werkman, amateur photographer,” appears on the back of one of his photographs, a portrait of his mother.32
More intriguing is another reference to his use of a “hand stamp.” In 1943, Werkman produced “more than fifty prints (500 mm x 325 mm) with a hand stamp between the end of February and the beginning May…the prints with his stamping technique for the Vereeniging van Boekenvrienden (mr. Kist) followed in September.”33
The rollers that he used were most certainly composed of rubber. But the initial importance of Werkman upon Arman was not his use of a particular tool. It was the compositional design of his letters, numbers and abstract forms. When Arman saw the work of Schwitter’s for the first time, he was able to translate the compositions of Werkman by way of an intriguing new medium at his disposal.
But as we will latter note, Arman did not entirely forget the printing methods of Werkman. At a point after the period of the Cachets, Arman would turn to more formal methods of printmaking himself, and like Werkman, would begin directly stamping on the stones he used in his lithographs.
Jane Otmezguine, who introduced Arman’s catalogue raisonné of printed works, states that “Arman found in the Cachets a way of entering the family of printers and typographers and by extension of lithographers, serigraphers and engravers: inking, transfer and copying with matrixes.”34
Arman’s introduction of Werkman sparked an interest in repetition of design. Upon discovery of Schwitter’s use of the rubber stamp, he found the perfect tool to put his unformulated ideas into practise.
Enter the Cachets
Until the advent of the cachets, Arman had been what Restany described as a “Sunday Painter.” At the time of his discovery of Schwitter’s work at the Berrgruen Gallery in 1954, he was painting abstract works in the of manner De Stael and Poliakoff.35
With the advent of the cachets, Arman determined that he had entered upon uncharted territory, and so he gave the new works a name – cachets, which from the French literally means stamping. This was an attempt to define a new genre of art, not unlike the more traditional fields of portrait painting or landscapes.
“Arman, as so many pioneers of art in our century, transcends and replaces traditional pictorial conventions. Deliberately he has left those familiar realms of painting and sculpture. He is a metaphysician whose speculations about the nature of art determine the shape of its object. But he is also a realist who insists on the material experience, and a sensualist who requires the physical enjoyment of art. What sets Arman apart is that he does not start with a blank canvas, raw clay, wood or stone, but that he avails himself of forms and materials common and abundant in the world around us.”36
By making a fresh start in using an untraditional medium in the charting of modern concepts, the rubber stamp had another advantage for Arman. Although he had uncovered the medium by way of Schwitters, and the use of it by way of Werkman, there was little precedent for the use of the rubber stamp in the fine arts. As Marcel Duchamp had used glass in his work, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, and David Smith began to use industrial steel in his sculptural works, there was no measure for the work to be compared against. Arman was forced to find his way through the use of the medium itself. As he became more comfortable with the use of the rubber stamp, new possibilities suggested themselves, and their potential was revealed.
1954: Fabric Cachets
Until the nineties, critics had supposed that Arman’s use of the rubber stamp began in 1955. Henry Martin writes that, “The first works that Arman chooses to recognize as truly his own are the cachets he began to make in 1955.”37
Another of his able historians, Jan van der Marck, writes that, “Having dabbled in the styles of the period and painted the pictures to which he now refers as student work, Arman began to make multiple impressions on paper with a collection of rubber stamps he found in an office desk drawer in 1955.38
It was not until the time of his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, that a Cachet from late 1954 appeared. The work was unusual in several regards. Not only was it created on fabric, the work (Untitled, 1954) was impressed with a date stamp that fixed it’s creation to a precise time. Impressed with the date, 23 décem 1954, the printed fabric contains reproductions of flowers in red, green, blue, and brown upon a lighter burlap background.
Measuring 14 1/2 by 11 3/8 inches, the work is also notable for the use of but two stamps, the date stamp (impressed in ink seven time horizontally in the center top of the work, and some ten times in a lower mid portion) and a bordered rectangular stamp (AU FOYER/13, Rue Paul Dérpuléde/NICE), impressed in ink some fifty times in geometric patterns.
Depending on their position, the stamps are sometimes overlapped, but just as often are placed side by side. A circular effect is found in the mid right hand portion of the work. Away from the circle the stamps are lined up horizontally, unless the circular portion comes into play, at which time the rubber stamp impressions adjust to it’s lines.39
The work is signed Armand on the lower right corner. Once in possession of the Marisa del Re Gallery (New York, New York), it was offered by Christie’s, London, in their sale of Contemporary Art on October 27, 1994.
Two other rubber stamp fabric works from 1954 are documented in the Arman Archives Art File Database.40 One (Untitled, 1954) is date stamped eight days before (15 décem 1954) the previously mentioned work on fabric different from the first. The fleur-de-lis pattern of the fabric is interwoven with the date stamp and another rectangular border stamp (possibly AU FOYER, as in the previous work, but undistinguishable in reproduction). The work, measuring 14 7/8″ x 12 3/8″ was in the collection of Elaine Radique (Paris, France) until it’s sale in December 1989 to a private dealer.
A third work on fabric from 1954 (Untitled, 1954) is primarily composed of the AU FOYER rectangularly bordered stamp appearing in the previous two, as well as a December date stamp, which is indistinguishable in reproduction. The work (12 3/8″ x 14 7/8″) appears to be of a similar fabric to the first work mentioned, but differs in that the inked rubber stamp markings are impressed in an overlapping all-over pattern, more typically of Arman’s later cachets.
Although Arman’s use of the rubber stamp derives from his exposure to the work of Schwitters and Werkman, there is nothing in these earliest cachets that can be attributed to the styles of either artist. There is none of the humor of Schwitters Stempelbilder, nor are they combined with drawings, typography, or paper collage work. The fabric replaces the additional graphic elements.
Neither do we see any of Werkman’s bold design work in these early cachets. Werkman’s typographical elements relate to their neighboring forms in strict Constructivist patterns. In these first rubber stamp works on fabric, Arman is much more free in his creation. He is working spontaneously with his new medium in a manner which he will develop at a later time.
All three works have this in common: they employ the new medium of rubber stamps; the rubber stamps are inked in black; they are used spontaneously, leaving the design to chance; they are imprinted on a fabric background; they are of a similar small scale.
Some of these characteristics will shortly change, but it is interesting to note that these first efforts, with their all-over abstract patterning, occur in the same year Arman saw the work of Jackson Pollock for the first time at the Studio Paul Facchetti in Paris. 41
1955: Switching Desks
The very first period of the cachets, the fabric prints of 1954, are tied to Arman’s following year of production by two works, in which the artist once again employs the use of the date stamp and the AU FOYER impression. Both of these works continue Arman’s overlapping of imprints, which relate to the all-over patterning of Pollock,
An untitled work incorporating the AU FOYER impression remains in Arman’s personal collection. This is a work on paper (10 5/8″ x 7 1/8″), in which the rubber stamp is impressed on the page of an illustrated book (the page number 15 appears in the lower bottom left of the work). Signed Armand in the bottom right corner, the reproductions seem to be diagrams of various stair columns, which are lined up across the page in a double row. Armand has turned the page vertically so that the rows, originally horizontal, now line up on top of one another. Over the diagram, Arman has impressed the stamps, and while they are overlapping, a unity is achieved by the background of the initial printed diagram. No date stamp is apparent.42
In the next work, which appears to be the first cachet given a title, both the AU FOYER and date stamp impressions can be observed. The rubber stamp work, I Papier, was inked on paper and then laid down on board. The date of it’s execution is impressed with the date stamp, 14 Fevr 1955. It remains of a similar size to the other works, 9 3/4″ x 6 1/4″, and is again an all-over work created with great spontaneity.
With the completion of these two works, presumably executed in the early part of the year, Arman (then Armand), closes the period of his very first experimentation with the rubber stamp medium. They are rarely discussed. Rather the critics and historians of Arman’s art focus on the next period of the cachets, in which a broader variety of stamps are used.
It is as if Arman has switched desks, or perhaps came across a hoarding of stamps in the possession of a compatriot. At any rate, although the size of the works on paper remain the same, and they remain impressed in black ink, they change dramatically. It is the variety of rubber stamps used that produce this effect. A patterning that Henry Martin has described as “reminiscent of a page in somebody’s passport.”43
Jeffrey Robinson writes that, “Because he occasionally took odd jobs in offices, some of the objects around him were rubber stamps. They’re an expression of the French passion for officialdom. Nothing in France could possibly be official without receiving rubber stamp approval, even if the rubber stamp says nothing more that, ‘Official.’ It’s a difficult concept for the non-French to fathom. Yet it led Armand from Schwitters and Werkman through French bureaucracy to his first original statements.”44
Alison de Lima Greene, who first exhibited the 1954 fabric cachets at the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, in 1991, wrote that “the actual process of stamping was willfully prosaic and routine-the gestures involved in the making of the Cachets were identical to those of the customs inspector or the librarian at work.”45
Although Arman intended to incorporate traces of real life into his artistic creations, it was an intellectual crescendo based on the full sweep on an evolving modernism. The passport pages of the custom official could not be identical to the cachets of Arman, because the artist, as already quoted by Restany, had “painting in his guts.” The cachets were not composed completely by pure chance, as the customs official in his haste is like to compose. Neither does the page of a cachet exist to convey literal meaning. The rubber stamps may be repeated more than once, but this is to develop texture and composition, not to designate repeated border crossings.
Restany relates that, “Arman’s Cachets are the result of the most inexorable necessity. For the artist, obliged to keep long office hours, it was out of the question to place an easel in the middle of the shop, and he had to make use of means immediately at hand. These attempts of the border assumed a growing importance and constitute the first formulation of Arman’s expressivity, the repetition of a gesture tending to an accumulation of objective traces.”46
Arman elaborates on this point, echoing Schwitter’s theory of creative rhythm in art. “For every object made there is a corresponding series of precise operations which can all be found contained within its form and destination: multiplied by the number of subjects chosen, these operations find freedom in the accumulated surfaces. This work process is in correlation with present-day methods: automation, assembly line, and also mass-produced throwaways…”47
Two distinct rhythms appear in the cachets of 1955: a straight forward monochrome accounting of different rubber stamp impressions arranged in orderly procession, and the overlapping all-over works impressed in black ink, which characterized the earlier fabric cachets.
Of the latter, there are two works bearing special mention. Cachets (2-51), is composed of some forty rubber stamps found in the business world. The majority of stamps on the 11″ x 9″ paper are textual. For the most part, they are positioned as one would read them, that is, correctly impressed right-side-up, so that they can be viewed as intended. There are some exceptions: a set of numbers that run horizontally, and a few stamps that are upside down (most likely a mistake common in the technical nature of impressing stamps).
The work is given a rhythm by the use of circular stamps, a variety of font types, heavy and lighter impressions, numbers, and a few figurative elements which interrupt the predominantly textual stamps. With a few anomalies (7, 10 fr., lundi), there is no repetition of the stamps, as we find in the date stamps and AU FOYER of the 1954 fabric cachets and the earlier works of 1955.
One surprising stamp included in Cachets (2-51), is an advertising stamp for the business of Louis Lin of Nice, who billed his practice “L’Art de la Gravure.” In mentioning the type of work he does (Médailles/Insignes/Artistiques) he mentions the word Cachets, and so in one of his earliest works, we find the actual word Arman has used to describe his ongoing series of rubber stamp works.48
We find a very similar method of working in a cachet of the same year in Untitled (Cachet 3-51). Although both these works are essentially untitled, the previous work takes it’s title from a book illustration. Arman himself leaves the works sans titre in the notebooks of his archive. The descriptors 2-51 and 3-51 are my own, taken from prominent circular impressions in the works.
Untitled (Cachet 3-51), looks very much like the previously cited work. As in the former cachet, the work is composed of some fifty textual and representational stamps, most of a business nature. There is little repetition of the stamps, the exception being one which reads in English, “Government owned property/I hereby certify that the replacements or repairs/paid on this voucher were necessitated by normal/wear and tear not due to negligence.” They are found next to each other in the center of the work. The one on the left is upside down.
It is, of course, impossible to know if this is intentional or not. But it is not unlikely that having once found that the stamp was impressed upside down and seeing that there was room next to it for a standard impression, Arman simply created a work incorporating a chance occurrence.
As Restany has argued, “All of Arman’s work is firmly grounded upon the determining and determinist idea of ‘directed chance.” Each piece is an individual case in itself, and for the artist, a problem to be solved.”49
Aside from the prominent 3-51 circular stamp, the other distinguishing mark in the 10 5/8″ x 8 1/4″ work is the word NICE, which appears again in two other of the stamps used. Stamped impressions bearing the name of other cities of Southern France also appear (Limoges, Cannes).
No date stamps appear in either of the works. Both of them are simply accumulations of various impressions. There is no duplication between them (although the two circular stamps, 3-51 and 2-51 look remarkably similar). It’s as if Arman came across a large cache of rubber stamps making the two Cachets from them, impressing each stamp one time, with the rare exceptions that have been previously noted.
In two other cachets from the same year, we find Arman experimenting with a very different style. The two works Cachets (CHOIX) and Government Property, reverberate from the other works previously cited, but take different turns.
Cachet (CHOIX), harks back to the fabric cachets in their all-over impressions. But now the repertoire of the stamps has broadened. This latter work relies on the overlapping rubber stamps for texture, rather then the background fabric. Still of a similar size (11″ x 8 1/4″), there is a richness to the work that has not been seen before.
The rubber stamp impressions are not as numerous as found in Cachet (2-51) and Cachet (3-51), which contained impressions of upwards of forty stamps each. In Cachet (CHOIX), we find nine rubber stamps (CHOIX, 10fr.10fr.10fr., SERVANT, CRAINT, LA CHALEUR, PAY, an oval stamp [SECTION BOULES], a thin rectangular stamp [S.C.R. Nice], and an indistinguishable longer textual stamp.
Each of the stamps are repeated throughout the work in no apparent pattern, but rather a rhythm. The oval stamp appears ten times. The rectangular stamp is repeated eighteen times. CHOIX appears five times. This work is a model for the spontaneity and chance imagery that will mark the latter period of the Cachets.
It is interesting to note that several of the stamps in Cachet (CHOIX) have appeared in a work previously cited. CHOIX, 10fr.10fr.10fr. and SERVANT were both impressed in Cachet (2-51).
But of all the works done in 1955, Government Property, is perhaps the steller work. All the other works previously cited for the year were approximately the size of the page of a book. Government Property measures 44″ x 37″ (approximately 4′ x 3′). Not only is it set apart by it’s size, the work appropriates the designs which first attracted Arman to the designs of H. N. Werkman.
Arman uses several rectangular textual stamps as a background for the work. Government owned property, the stamp which first appeared in Cachet (3-51), is used again to lay a foundation for the piece. It’s impression is found nine times at various angles: some upside down, others used vertically. An alphabet in two lines also secures the background effect, repeated nine times hrizontally and vertically throughout the work.
But what sets this work apart from the other done during 1955, are the strong block letters and numbers, which mirror Werkman’s typography. A double column of M’s are used, in homage to the LENIN work Arman admired in this first contact with Werkman in the pages of Art d’ Aujoud’hui. ZZ‘s, 55‘s, line up in columns as well. This is the first work which directly pays direct tribute to Werkman’s influence, so often acknowledged by Arman.
1956: Lessons from Werkman
On February 17, 1956, Arman had his first one-man show at the Galerie du Haut-Pavé in Paris. Abstract paintings along with three of his Cachets were presented. In a photograph of Arman attending the exhibition, we see him looking over his shoulder at one of his paintings. There are streaks of pigment, as if layed down by roller, over the lighter background of the work. In contrast to the broader strokes of pigment, lines slash the surface adding another layer to the work.
Cachet No. 1 (1956) initiates a tendency in his work of this year towards the use of large blocks of print to obtain similar effects as seen in his paintings of the period. These blocks are composed of either lengthy textual stamps, or smaller word stamps that have been grouped together. Although the details of this particular work are indistinguishable in a reproduction found in a Japanese catalog, one phrase, Capital Porte 15 Million, is both stacked, creating a box like effect, and strung together, forming a line. While the work is multilayered it owes more to Constructivism than the all-over look of Pollock.
Cachet No. 2 (1956) continues this trend of grouping a particular stamp in block formations. A rectangular bordered stamp reading, “PRIX IMPOSES,” examplifies this. In one instance, the stamp is stacked vertically four times. They are like building blocks that sit atop of one another with very little overlap. This occurs three times in the work, and in addition, the same stamp is impressed horizontally in a similar fashion. Various impressions of the stamp, VOUS are stacked in a more casual fashion, sometimes in reverse of one another, mirroring one another. We also observe a return of one of Arman’s favorite stamps of this early period, the circle stamp with a -51 enclosed within it. Although it has appeared previously with a 2 and 3, here it appears without any signifier. Like Cachet No. 1 (1956), the work is modest in size (9 1/2″ x 12″).
A similarrly sized work, Bonbons Pins (1956) continues both Arman’s block text approach in breaking up space, and a return to Werkman’s use of larger numbers impressed in columns. The title obtains it’s name from the stamp, Bonbons Pins, stamped several times throughout the work.
This confluence of tendencies reappear in Cachets (1956). A number of stamps are used, dominated by the word stamp, CONFIDENTIEL. The stamp is used six times in the work. A large text block breaks up the center of the work. We also find a word stamp, APPLICATION de LAVIS n. 4, used at angles to one another, tending to fracture the picture plane. Rectangular and triangular stamps, as well as the use of repeating numbers (2,3,5), are also used to give the work added texture. Blocks of text and stacks of repeated impressions continue to dominate Arman’s work of this period.
Two other works continue these characteristic traits. Untitled (Nice) and Untitled (Arch.) are both modest in size (12 5/8″ x 9 13/16″) and continue the use of large areas of block printing combined with smaller stamps filling the space. They differ from the previous works, in that the patches are not composed of textual stamps but of pure ink, as if the rubber stamp image has been stripped off of it’s mount and impressed with only the rubber backing.
In the first work, the word stamp NICE dominates the composition, both stacked horizontally and used at angles. In Untitled (Arch.) there are several different impressions used over the blocks of ink, including the number stamp 605143, Arch., and a rectangular bordered stamp. Both of the works were created on paper and then mounted on canvas, a technique which would be continued in later works.
One other Cachet from this period, Untitled (1956), makes use of the large block texts as a design element. Added to the block texts are a rectangular bordered stamp, a large W, and the word stamp CONFIDENTIEL. These are all tightly grouped, with overlapping a strong characteristic of the piece. The 12 3/8″ x 9 1/2″ work conforms to the modest sizes of the previous works of the period.
But there is a difference between overlapping and all-over. In the overlapping works, details can still be readily distinguished and there are different compositional elements concurrent in the work. If one were to slice the work in two, the two parts would look very different. In an all-over work, which is more compact, there would be no distinction between the two halves.
Such is the case in Untitled (1956), a larger work then others of the year. Measuring 29 5/16″ x 42 1/2″, we find one of the earliest examples of Arman’s all-over technique. And again, perhaps to announce the importance of the work, the paper has been mounted on canvas. Although we can make out specific stamps, there are no dominant textual or numerical impressions. We can recognize the letter M and the number 2. There is an ampersand (&) impressed as well. But the majority of the work is composed of slashes, such as could be found in his paintings of the period. It is at once a very different work than those that have come before, and a harbinger of those yet to come.
1957: The Grand Cachets
On June 21,1957, Arman had his second solo exhibition at a new venue, the Galeria La Roue in Paris. He also traveled to Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan with his wife and a friend, who was researching proto-Sumerian cuneiform languages with the French archaeological mission. What effect Arman’s exposure to this ancient form of record keeping is unknown, but the very fact that he was aware of this form of marking with wedge shaped characters impressed in wet clay, puts him in direct contact with one of man’s first attempts to represent himself through hand marking.
Priorité A (1957) was included in Arman’s retrospective organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, and is reproduced in color in the catalog for the exhibition. The signed and dated work measures 12 5/8″ x 9 5/8″, modest in size compared to works produced during the same period. The title derives from a rubber stamp used in the work, which is impressed some eighteen times. The work is, however, dominated by large green blocks of ink, possabily done with a roller.50
Forming the background of the work, the green blocks are then overprinted with the Priorité A stamp, as well as a numerical stamp reading 726354. The numerical stamp is impressed some twenty times in a dark black ink. Priorité A, while also impressed in black ink seems to have been inked from a different pad, as it appears grayer in tone compared with the darker numerials.
The treatment of the impressions owe much to Werkman’s influence. They are stacked in several instances, although in the bottom left portion of the work, they are used more loosly, as the VOUS impression was handeled in Cachet No. 2 (1956). We also see the return of the -51 circular stamp, now becoming a trademark of the artist. Here, it appears without any prefix. The texture of the work, complimenting the green blocks, circular stampings, numerial and textual stamps, is flushed out with various letters (J,X,Y,H,W,Z,R) impressed heavily in red.
It is interesting to note that the red letters are over inked, so that they spread on the paper, unlike the 726354 impressions in black ink, which are sharp and distinct. The letters also appear to be blotted on the work, that is, stamped to extract the ink from the marking devise. This technique gives the work an added depth, adding to the complexity of the work.
The rubber stamp Priorité A is used in another work of 1957, Cachet (1957), which is again dominated by large blocks of color, over which are impressed the textual stamps, SUD-MATERIEL, ARORAK, and a large p or d. It is difficult to tell which, because the majority of the stamps in the signed work (Armand) are impressed upside down. This follows a similar pattern as in Priorité A.
It is apparent from this technique that Arman’s major concern is the use of the stamps to convey textural quality, not literal meaning, and that the use of the rubber stamps in these reversed circumstances, is an attempt to distract us from a strict interpretation of the text. The emphasis, like much of Werkman’s typographical work, is on text and numbers as compositional elements, not keys to literal meaning.
Cachets (AU FOYER) (1957), marks the return of a familiar element in Arman’s repetoire. The rectangular bordered rubber stamp, AU FOYER/13, Rue Paul Dérpuléde/NICE, used in the fabric works of 1954, and the works from 1955, Untitled (AU FOYER) and I Papier, reappear in a new version on canvas. Here they are impressed in overlapping columns four across, but to such an extend that it becomes an all-over work, alebit, centered within the perimeters of the composition. While still modest in size, similar to a standard sheet of 9 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper, it is, however a departure that the rubber stamps have been impressed on canvas.
A similar sized untitled work produced on paper this same year, should also be mentioned in it’s relation to Werkman’s typography. It is constructed with large areas of color through which we can see colums of YYYY, and 333, and the text stamp CONFIDENTIEL, used in the work of the previous year. But the use of the Y‘s and 3‘s are instantly reminescent of Werkman’s reproductions in Art d”Aujourd’hui. Although Arman’s is breaking new ground in the use of the rubber stamp, working on canvas, overlapping color text and numbers, he has yet to stray very far from Werkman’s direction.
This changes in other works of 1957. In an untitled work measuring 25 1/4″ x 22 13/16″ we see a number of stamps used in an all-over compostion, owing more to Pollock than Werkman. Signed and dated, the Cachet uses a number of stamps previously seen in other works. The circular -51 stamp is again in evidence, this time with the prefix 2 in front of the -51. NICE also reappears. There are triangular stamps and rectangular bordered stamps, all of which are repeated throughout the work. The circular -51 impression is used some fifty times. The work is dense, compact, and balanced by the same stamps impresed throughout different sectors in the compostion.
These works lead us to Arman’s most satisfying compostions of the period. They escape the smaller formats of the year’s previous work, and were, in all probablility, conceived after his show at the Galeria La Roue.
Jan van der Marck writes that Pierre Restany encouraged Arman not to confine himself “to the limited scale of needlepoint and boudoir painting.” Influenced by Restany’s comments, Arman purchased new materials that allowed him to work on a larger scale. The cachets that followed break free of Werkman’s Constructivist leanings, and toward the all-sweep of Pollock.51
Mauve Administratif (Administrative Mauve), is a large work measuring 59 1/16″ x 78 3/4″. The title responds to the pale paints used as washes in the background in the work, over which the impressions are of a darker reddish brown. Henry Martin writes that the work presents, “an organization of the stamps against a background of pale, studied, and harmoniuous blues, yellows, and greens that are visually related to the stamps but entirely extraneous to the action of stamping. A background -an aesthetic universe- has been prepared to receive the artist’s gestures, and the gestures are organized in terms of it.”52
The stamps used in Mauve Administratif, are like none other that have come before. The textual stamps have been replaced by grids, arrows and circles. To be sure, some word stamps are used, but they are insignificant in comparison the more abstract patterns that surround and dominate them. One can make out the 10fr.10fr.10fr. rubber stamp used in Cachet (2-52) from 1955, and other subsequent works. The stamp, once so prominent in the former works, is almost completely subsumed in the this larger more forceful work.
In comparing Mauve Administrif to the 1955 Cachet (CHOIX), Henry Martin notes their differences. “The former (Cachet [CHOIX]) is clearly concerned with the action -the gesture– of applying the stamps to the paper, wheras the latter (Mauve Administrif) is more complex and ‘painterly.’ If only because of their respective sizes, the former invites us litterally to read what the rubber stamps say, whereas the latter invites us to a contemplation of a field or a pattern. The first is best seen from up close, the second from a distance. In the first, the individual signs with their individual meanings come clearly into relief, and in the second they disappear into the interstices of a texture. Whereas the first offers an experience that is above all cerebral, the second is more highly visual…In the first, what counts is the force of the idea, and in the second the idea has been rendered subordinate and incorporated into an aesthetic.”53
With the encouragement of Restany, the growing reputation of Pollock (who died in 1957), and his evolving facility with the rubber stamp, Arman’s work had taken a dramatic turn. He is concerned less with the novelty of the rubber stamp, as he is with transforming it into a legitimate artistic tool capable of a variety of visual possabilities .
Yves Klein, during this same period, sought different ways of applying his patented International Klein Blue powered pigments to his monochrome canvases (his first exhibition of them occured this year at the Galerie Iris Cert on May 10).54 Both he and Arman were still coming to terms with the presentation of innovative technical applications within the context of the fine arts.
By first applying paint to paper over which he impressed the rubber stamps, and then mounting the paper on canvas, Arman placed his works in a context that critics, like Restany, could begin placing the cachets within the canons of of an evolving modernism. The works become much larger. The cachets can no longer be produced at a desk. They demand the studio of an artist, and this period marks a growing professionalism for Arman.
This new technigue culminates in Grande Cachet (Large Cachet) (1957), his masterpiece of the period. Almost nine feet long (59 1/2″ x 102″), the horizontal work is comparable in size to the Abstract Expressionist works produced during the period: paintings intended to stretch the notion of easel painting in both size as well as historical context.
There is a sweep and rhythm to Grand Cachet, which would have been impossible in his works influenced by Werkman. This is pure Abstract Expressionism – with a twist. By incorporating facets of the everyday -rubber stamp impressions- Arman has combined the discoveries of Abstract Expressionism, with a younger generations regard for objects of popular culture.
In the collection of the Galerie Beaubourg, Paris-Vence, Grand Cachet, was loaned to the National Postal Museum in Paris, during it’s 1995 exhibition, L’Art du Tampon (The Art of the Rubber Stamp). Installed in the entryway to the exhibition, the work took it’s place as a monumental landmark of the medium.
Cachet Carmelite (1957) is a horizontal work of similar size (102 3/8″ x 59 1/16″) to Grand Cachet. The one difference in the works is that Cachet Carmelite includes the traces of inked objects. This begins a radical shift in the artist’s work away from the Cachets and toward a new genre, which Arman named the Allures. This phase is marked by the direct use of objects dipped in ink or paint and then applied directly to the paper or canvas. The objects become “found” stamps, torn directly from life and incorporated into the repretoire of the artist.
Cachet Carmelite is built from the foundation up. A background color is first applied in a somewhat even color (brown). Over this a lighter color is worked in a more painterly manner. To this is applied the rubber stamps in an all over pattern. As finely detailed stamps would be lost in this compostion, more abstract grids take their palce. Numerical stamps are applied in an all-over manner to flush out the compostion. In a departure from previous works, the inked traces of objects are overlayed in darker pigments. Depth is achieved by layer upon layer of paint and ink.
One other work from this period should be mentioned. Cachet, Bleu & Blanc (1957-1958), continues the all-over patterning of these cachets of 1957. It is midway in size between Mauve Administrif on one hand, and Grand Cachet on the other.
1958: Cachets Behaved and Violent
Arman continues his breakthrough technique of first applying paint to paper over which he impresses rubber stamps and traces of inked objects in the creation of Sombre Dimanche (Dark Sunday ), 1958, a work similar in size to Mauve Administratif, measuring 56 1/4″ x 78″. Over a light brown background, darker brown impressions are overlaid in a furious assault blending the individual stamps until they are all but indistinguishable.55
There is not much to visually distinguish Dark Sunday from Grand Cachet other than it’s smaller size. Like the larger work, it was created on paper and mounted on canvas. The colors are similar. If anything, Grand Cachet is more abstract. One can distinguish a letter (W) and number (5) in Dark Sunday. In reproduction, Grand Cachet visually yields only the number 9 in the far center left portion of the composition. The size of the work, as well as the overlapping impressions, render literal meaning in the work extraneous.
But at this point, Arman has not abandoned his use of the rubber stamp. In works like Orange and Green (1958), and Persian Plum (1958), he continues working on a large scale, applying rubber stamps and paint traces on paper, which are then mounted on canvas. Persian Plum measures 58 1/4″ x 90 1/2″. Orange and Green is even a bit larger. Arman is no longer making formal rubber stamp works in the manner of the early Cachets of 1954-1956. This works now are painterly, not graphic.
Smaller works are also composed during this same period reflecting Arman’s increased attention to color. Orange and Blue/ Red, Brown and Orange (1958) measures only 16″ x 9″, but the work mirrors the construction of the larger works, containing rubber stamps impressions and paint on paper, laid on board.
The emphasis on color is manifested in the titles of his work. Even in smaller works of the period, such as Orange and Blue (1958), the focus in on color. The 5″ x 7 1/4″ work in composed of rubber stamps and paint traces on paper laid down on board.
Arman has stated that different colors evoke various emotions. “Colors have meaning. There are colours that are more violent, capable of expressing more movement. Others are more mysterious and better behaved. I consider blues to be behaved, greens and ochres also. Reds, purples and blacks are more violent.”56
The majority of Arman’s earlier works were left untitled. On the rare occasions he named them, as in Government Property (1955), Bonbons Pins (1956), and Priorité A (1957), they reflected the use of a particular rubber stamp. Mauve Administrif (1957) marks a turning point; color and textual context are seen as partners.
The crescendo of the cachets is reflected in another name change – that of the artist himself. When the printer of a catalog for a group show at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris omits the “d” from his name, the artist, at first outraged, excepts the situation, and decides to adopt a new persona.
“I liked it much better that way so I had my name legally changed. Anyway, life with lots of different names is too complicated. I’d get registered mail addressed to Arman and all I could do was prove I was Mr. Fernanadez. It got so silly that when I became an American in 1972, I also got a new name. I changed myself into Armand Pierre Arman. It’s made life much easier.”57
As he yields his name in 1958, so does he abandon the strict use of rubber stamps in the cachets. Arman enters a new phase, and once again he comes up with a term of his own devising to describe it. The Allures d’objects (Object Traces), derive from the traces of objects dipped in ink first seen in such works from 1957 as Grand Cachet and Cachet Carmelite.
“Allures: A process of taking by imprint on paper the traces of objects in motion inspired by first: the rubber stamp works which themselves were influenced by Kurt Schwitters, second, by the strategy of recording sounds of objects in motion, a strategy developed by Pierre Schaeffer, executive director of the Groupe de Recherche Musicale. Those recordings being part of the so called ‘musique concréte’, also the name given at the G. R. M. for those recording was ‘allure d’objects”.
“I met Pierre Schaeffner through my first wife, Eliane Radique who is a musician and was working with the composers of the G. R. M. I was present at such recordings, and was interested in adding objects to the rubber stamp works. At the time, the procedure got all my attention, and instead of having the traces of objects directly applied on the surface, I started to use the objects in motion and to record their development on paper after they were soaked in ink or paint.58
Pierre Schaeffer was part on an international network of advanced musicians, such as Karl-Heinz Stockhousen in Cologne and John Cage in New York, who were concerned with electronic and concrete music. Concrete music was a term indicating non-musical “found” sound, produced by kicking a guitar around a block, demolishing a grand piano, or polishing a violin. The allures became in effect “found” rubber stamps, when objects, such as beads, cords, springs, were imprinted as well as flung across the canvas leaving the trace of their motion across the surface.
Henry Martin notes the subtle changes which occured during this shift from the cachets to the allures. “With respect to the cachets, the allures (or ‘traces’) started out as more a technical than a conceptual departure. Instead of leaving ink traces on paper with rubber stamps, Arman simply began to use various other inked objects; essentially he continued with the exploration of the same problems that he was concerned with in the last cachets.”59
Arman’s technical work with the cachets progressed from small works on fabric and paper focusing on the imprint of the rubber stamp in the manner of Werkman, to larger all-over works mounted on canvas reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. The allures went through a similar progression as the artist came to terms with his new medium.
The allures surfaced initially as inked objects incorporated within the rubber stamp works. They evolved to the point where the inked or paint covered objects were flung at the canvas, the composition incorporating not only the traces of paint, but the broken remnants of the object themselves. This, in turn, created other possibilities.
“Together, the cachets and the allures form the basis for all that comes after them. Although both series contain some elements that Arman later chose to discard and some common elements that he chose to continue to investigate, neither by itself contains all the elements that he later elected to pursue. Each can be considered the source of one fundamental idea, and the interaction of these two ideas supplies the key to the understanding of all the rest of the genres he has invented from the poubelles (‘garbage cans,’ or accumulations of garbage) to the various other forms of the accumulations and to the equally numerous forms that are based upon destruction. The direct involvement with the object in the allures combines with the idea of repetition in the cachets, and all the rest follows with a logic as rigorous as that of a series of puns.”
“Once the object is inserted into the logic of the idea of repetition, the idea of repetition transforms itself directly into the idea of accumulation. One repeats gestures and accumulates things. What one accumulates is surplus. Surplus is waste. Wastepaper baskets. Poubelles. What is wasted is laid to waste. Destruction.”60
The End of the Cachets. The Continuing Use of the Rubber Stamp.
In 1959, Arman is still continuing his use of rubber stamps. Cachets au Tigre (Tiger Cachets) contains stamp impressions, stencils and paint traces, as well. The large work (59″ x 102 3/8″) is characteristed by a greater concern on movement and flow in the composition.61 St. Denis pres Martel No. 2 (1959) also combines oil traces and rubber stamps.
But by 1960, Arman creates La Fin des Cachets (The End of the Cachets), which ends the series in what Henry Martin maintains is a “complete and irrevocable halt.”62
And yet, we find a large untitled cachet from 1961 reproduced in a catalog for a retrospective at the Galerie Pavillon Werd in Zurich, Switzerland,63a and another from 1962, which brings this “irrevocable halt” into question.63b
There can be no question, however, that Arman’s use of the rubber stamp continues. In 1964, he sent out a New Year’s card bearing the likeness of a one dollar bill, over which is impressed a rubber stamp bearing his signature (Arman) and greeting for the year.
Rubber stamps are also included in an Accumulation from 1962, Le Sénat (The Senate), which contains sixty-nine rubber stamps in an 11 1/2″ x 13 3/4″ wooden box. One wonders if these were the same stamps used in making the Cachets laid to rest.64
And in another box from 1973, the multiple, Accumulation, published by John Gibson, New York, and Edition Schellman, Munich, is composed of some fifeteen actual rubber stamps with the text, ACCUMULATION, which are then impressed in profusion on a sheet of white paper behind them.65
It is in his prints, however, that rubber stamps reappear as a consistent prescence. Jane Otmezguine, describes this transformation as “palingentic,” a biological term denoting evolutionary characteristics derived from ancestral forms rather than adaptions of recent origin. Arman’s work “continues to evolve perpetually in cycles, periodically returning to this or that initial series to be perfected and enriched by new expressions.”66
Otmezguine, drawing on her conversations with Arman, opines that the artist’s first prints were wood engraving from 1955. “Unfortunately nothing remains of these first printed works except for the artist’s account of them, who remembers their small size, the almost amateurish workmanship but also how they came to be: Arman was led to produce them in proof of his admiration for Gauguin’s prints in his work Noa Noa.”67
His first excursions as a printmaker began in 1959, when he began to working on lithographs. These experiments occured at the same time as the emergence of the allures, and after inking a necklace, Arman hit it against the lithographic stone, spattering those near him to his great displeasure.68
While many of the earliest prints were composed in the manner of the allures, rubber stamps begin appearing in his printwork from1965. Le Rapporteur, a work in which the lithograph is encased in polyester, contains the impressions of letters in the top portion of the work.69
A more extensive use of the rubber stamp occurs in the 1974 lithograhy, École de Nice, used for the front cover off the Alexandre de la Salle Gallery catalog, for the opening of the Gallery in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The 12 3/4″ x 9 3/4″ work is composed entirely of the text stamp, “ECOLE DE NICE,” impressed numberous times across the page, with severe overlapping in the center of the composition.70
Arman returns to wood carving in the manner of Gauguin, for a series of lithographs published by Reto a Marca (Switzerland) in 1989 and 1990. A carved paint tube is used as a hand stamp in double rows at the top of the works. While not technically a rubber stamp, the carved paint tube is used to impress the lithography ink on the stone exactly as one would use it’s counterpart in rubber.71
Arman has also illustrated a number of books. In 1965, he collaborated with the writer André Verdet, in the production of twelve original lithographs, which appear to be either hand stamped, either with a rubber stamp or a wood carving.72
Perhaps the distinction of a hand stamp composed of rubber or wood in unimportant in the long run. Certainly it is all but impossible to distinguish between the two visually. But for the purposes of this essay, which deals with Arman’s use of the rubber stamp, the issue is of critical importance.
The Rubber Stamp in Contemporary Art
Andy Warhol was also using rubber stamps to create works of art at the end of the fifties. He did a series of carved stamps (hearts, flowers, birds, fruits) used in his commercial work. His later silk-screen works mimicked rubber stamps in their repetition of imagery over the surface of the canvas.
While the Pop Art movement was creating such a stir in the mainstream artworld, a little known avant-garde movement called Fluxus was emerging unannounced among an international mix of artists: Yoko Ono from Japan, George Maciunas from Lithuania, video artist Nam June Paik from Korea, Robert Filliou and Ben Vautier from France, Joseph Beuys from Germany, Robin Page from Canada, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Ken Friedman from the United States, as well as many others at home and abroad.
According to the Fluxus historian Jon Hendricks (author of the Fluxus Codex) the first “official” Fluxus work to employ rubber stamps was Nam June Paik’s The Monthly Review of the University for Avant-Garde Hinduism. By stamping mailing envelopes and objects with the name of the publication, Paik was able to expand the concept of a “periodical.”73
Flux Post Kit 7, assembled by George Maciunas in 1968, was a culmination of postal ideas conceived by several Fluxus artists. It contained postage stamps by Robert Watts, postcards by Ben Vautier, and rubber stamps by James Riddle (EVERYTHING) and Ken Friedman (INCONSEQUENTIAL IS COMING).
While Arman had used rubber stamps for their pictorial possibilities, and Fluxus artists opened the way for the conceptual use of rubber stamps, it remained for the artist Ray Johnson to examine their poetic possibilities.
Johnson was an artworld insider, attending Black Mountain College in the late forties, where he was influenced by such cultural icons as John Cage, Buckminister Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg. Johnson began using the postal system to distribute poetic messages to an ever-widening circle of friends, celebrities from popular culture and fellow artists. By 1962, his activities were given a name: The New York Correspondence School of Art.
The New York Correspondence School was a parody of art taught by mail. Instead, Ray Johnson and his students made art from the postal system; transmitting cryptic messages cloaked in a common postal language composed of rubber stamps, cancellation marks and postage stamps.
Johnson created rubber stamps announcing “fan clubs” for Paloma Picasso, Shelley Duval, and the artists Japer Johns and Odilon Redon. He spoofed his own New York Correspondence School by creating Silhouette, Buddha and Buddhette Universities, which existed only in rubber.
In an interview I did with Ray Johnson in 1977, I asked him about his use of rubber stamps.
JH: …You use rubber stamps. Do you have a philosophy concerning them?
RJ: I don’t use them visually. I use them as verbal information. I was explaining my oldest rubber stamp reading “Collage by Ray Johnson” as to how and where and why I use and stamp it, which in the collage process, or ceremony, after I apply tape or glue to a surface, which technically makes it a collage. I then stamp it rather than signing my name, although I might sign my name after it. But the stamping is rather like the stamping of an envelope. Final. A letter is licked and stamped before it’s cancelled. It’s then dropped into a box, and so forth. Process involving the Post Office Department.
Johnson’s use of the postal system as a poetic medium of art and exchange encouraged the growth of an international network of artists expanding in number over the next three decades. Rubber stamp usage, both visual and textual, became a popular artistic medium in this new artistic exchange.
The first phase of rubber stamp activity within the mail art network culminated in the 1974 publication of Hervé Fischer’s Art et Communication Marginale. One-hundred and forty six artists were represented in the anthology, which presented brief biographies and examples of their rubber stamp works. Among the best known artists included in the work were Joseph Beuys (Germany), Jean François Bory (France), George Brecht (France), Dadaland (USA), Ray Johnson (USA) Genesis P. Orridge (England), Robert Filliou (France), General Idea (Canada), On Kawara (USA), Yves Klein (France), Dieter Rot (Germany), Daniel Spoerri (Romania), Saul Steinberg (USA), Ben Vautier (France), and Wolf Vostell (Germany).74
Arman was also included, represented by three pages of reproductions of his work. Included was the invitation for his June 1957 exhibition at Galerie La Roue, a cachet from 1956, and a page from a letter with rubber stamps to Pierre Restany, reproduced from the catalog of his exhibition, Grand Cachets, at the Galerie Apollinaire, Milan, Italy, in 1959.75
It is ironic that another contributor to the Fischer Book, Geza Perneczky, a Hungarian art scholar and participant in the mail art network, would write in his 1993 book, The Magazine Network: The Trends of Alterative Art in the Light of Their Periodicals, 1968-1988, that the German artist Dieter Rot(h) had discovered the use of the rubber stamp for creative means, and, “Having invented a new technique, Roth hastened to share his pleasure with the public. His first experiment was a stamped box, which he put up for sale through art galleries (1963-1966). This marked the dawn of rubber stamp art, which has since become a widely accepted form of artistic expression.”76
More ironic is that Perneczky’s contribution to the Fischer work was a series of “found” stamps, which were gathered “on the occasion of a promenade on the bank of Rhein in Köln 12. Sept. 1973.” These objects, set on wooden mounts, included a nail, chipped button, comb, plastic spoon and beer bottle cap.77
Arman’s artistic concepts of repetition and process utilizing the rubber stamp medium, conceived some fifteen years previous to his appearance in Fischer’s book, were beginning to filter down to a new generation of artists, the majority of which were unaware of his earlier contributions.
Even after the appearance of Fischer’s book, Arman’s contribution was never fully appreciated. Rubber stamp usage was spreading in the mail art network to the extent that Stempleplaats Gallery opened in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1976, showing many artists interested in the rubber stamp medium until their closing in 1981. The work was of a decidedly conceptual bent under the guidance of Ulises Carrion and Art van Barnevelt.
Arman has never hid his desire to produce beautiful objects. This approach was out of favor in alternative art networks. They favored objects lacking any commercial potential. Mail artists set themselves in opposition to the gallery system, in which Arman swam gracefully.
Arman has been a constant presence in the artworld since his first solo exhibition in 1956. His retrospective exhibition organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which traveled to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, garnered much press, including an article in The New York Times on February 28, 1992, written by Roberta Smith.
“Inspired by the streetwise Surrealist collages of Kurt Schwitters, he began printing pieces of paper and fabric with store-bought rubber stamps, creating lively patterns that are alternately legible and illegible. He then took to dipping larger objects, like pistons or typewriters, in paint and rolling them across canvas, resulting in works that seem to bridge the unlikely gap between Jackson Pollock’s lyrical ‘drip’ paintings and Marcel Duchamp’s sardonic ready-mades. From here (it) was a short step to making art from the objects themselves.”
“It is these early works that will be the biggest revelation for American viewers, and it’s a pity this exhibition did not include more of them. The stamped works in particular offer further proof that the European interest in popular culture was not simply a response to the efforts of American artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg…”78
In recent years, rubber stamp art, spawned by mail art, has enjoyed a spectacular boom. It has become a democratic and open art medium attracting practitioners of all ages. There are large conventions where stamps are sold and classes on their use are conducted. Several national magazines offering tips on techniques are being published. The majority of present day rubber stamp activity is craft orientated, although it’s conceptual use is still being explored within the mail art network, in the book arts, and within the field of graphic design.
The Treatment of Vision
Despite the occasional use of the rubber stamp by avant-garde artists earlier in the century, it was Kurt Schwitter’s sustained rubber stamp activity from 1918 to 1923 that figured prominently in stretching the definition of the visual arts. Three decades of fallow inactivity passed before Arman once again used the medium to explore the world view of a new generation of artists.
The incorporation of common objects into the artwork, exemplified by the use of new media by the Dadaists and the readymades of Duchamp, paved the way for the Pop Art of the sixties. As important as this was for the entire framework of the creative process, Arman’s specific contribution to the history of rubber stamp art is incalculable. At a time when the use of the rubber stamp was nonexistent in the fine arts, Arman took up the it’s banner and placed it center stage before the artworld, much as Joseph Cornell elevated the box to a new status, or Ray Johnson raised our awareness of the possibilities of correspondence.
“My attitude is a mixture of influences that I received when I was younger: from Werkman, with the prints, at the start of my work, to Jackson Pollock and the filling up of a surface. So if you take a large Pollock, very well filled up, if you take the letter MMMMM in repetition with Werkman, if you take the use of discarded objects with Kurt Schwitters, the mixture of all those influences leads to my conception as a work of art, for the use of the common object through accumulation and repetition. The visual effect does not have much to do with the statement about the object itself than it has to do with the history of art and the treatment of vision.”79
Clement Greenberg one told me that my use of the rubber stamp was a “gimmick.”80 But it is clear that Arman’s application of the rubber stamp was not. As he makes clear, the intention of the cachets was never to use the rubber stamp as an end in itself, but a means of propelling him towards a new “treatment of vision.”
John Held, Jr.