The figure: a man dressed in animal skins, with rags wrapped around his feet and a Tyrolean style hat with feathers on his head. His skin is a waxy white. The setting: a tiny island supporting a patched-up chair, the rickety throne of an exotic painter-king. The man hardly seems surprised by his incongruous situation but is concentrating on the small seascape he is painting on a traveller’s palette. Because the man is shown in half profile, viewers – no more of interest to him than his surroundings – can also see what he is working on, an aquatic landscape as blue as his own setting. Robinson Crusoé is in fact a self-portrait of the artist, based on a photograph in which he is shown wearing this garb.
In 1958, Arroyo fled Franco’s Spain, and his home town of Madrid, for Paris. In 1964–5 he took part in exhibitions by the figuration narrative movement, whose content was often highly political and, together with Erró, Bernard Rancillac, Hervé Télémaque among others, became one of its leading figures. Robinson Crusoé dates from this period. It ironically presents a painter who has chosen exile, an artist cut off from the world, concentrating on his work and on the miniature universe shown by his palette.
In his use of collage (bringing together fragments from different realities on the same canvas), his rejection of illusionism (absence of depth and the modulation of shadow and light, except for certain elements), and the use of flat blocks of colour (the sky is simply a big blue monochrome), Arroyo was influenced by British pop art (he was closer to David Hockney, for example, than to Roy Lichtenstein). Robinson Crusoé turns out to be very much a product of its time. However, the theme of the artist’s solitude places this painting within a philosophical tendency that extends much further than the 1960s; it originated with Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–5) by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Figuration narrative, Genève, Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2017.
Eduardo Arroyo, Minutes d’un testament, Paris, Grasset, 2010. Eduardo Arroyo, Sardines à l’huile, Paris, Plon, 1993.