Collage According to the Laws of Chance
April 25, 2012
I am a big fan of work by the artist Jean (Hans) ARP. He was born in 1886 in Strasbourg. His mother was French and his father was German. When he spoke French, he referred to himself as Jean; when he spoke German he referred to himself as Hans.
Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement that started in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916.
He is known for his curvy biomorphic sculptures and painted wood relief sculpture. He is also known for geometric abstract collage.
One of my favorite works by Arp is titled Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance , 1917 (cut and pasted papers, ink, and bronze paint), collection the Museum of Modern Art, New York, seen below (image the Internet).
Arp claimed he created the work by dropping cut and torn papers onto another paper and attaching them where they landed. Many people believe the artist moved the papers around as he made the collage.
Arp denied it, and his titles are his testament to the Dada premise that the work is done by chance.
Dada art is anti-art. It is anti-aesthetic.
By definition, Dada (especially in painting) was based on irrationality.
A BUNCH OF SQUARES
In my opinion, a painting that is a bunch of squares arranged by chance is not high art – unless it is Dada. Then it is anti-art in the highest dadaist tradition.
The image below is another early collage by Arp, titled Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance (1916) 9 7/8 x 4 7/8 inches.
HAVE YOU EVER DROPPED A SQUARE?
I’ve tried to drop squares and see if they land well.
I teach collage classes and ask students to drop squares and see if they land well. I show them the image by Arp (above).
It doesn’t work. The squares never land where they should. We always feel compelled to adjust the spaces between the papers, moving them closer together or further apart.
Here’s a Lesson in Design
The spaces in between are important. Spaces help create a pattern and a rhythm for the composition, both basic elements of good design.
Arp is famous for his curvy sculpture and painted wood relief sculpture.
He also titled them Arranged According to the Laws of Chance . The image below was done in 1928. It is a painted wood relief sculpture, 55 1/8 x 42 ½ inches (private collection).
Notice some of the shapes are circular and some are biomorhic (like flower petals). Notice the spaces between the wood pieces. Some are closer; some are further apart; some almost touch. Notice the variations in size and value. Some are bigger; some are smaller. Some are darker; some are lighter. The relationship between the pieces is perfect and creates a sense of movement and rhythm so your eye keeps moving.
SURROUNDED BY HIS SCULPTURE
The image below shows Arp in 1958 in his studio at Meudon, a suburb of Paris, France, surrounded by his sculpture (photo by Andre Villers).
I found the images in a book about Arp printed in 1958. The book was published by the Musuem of Modern Art, New York.
I was lucky to find the book – by chance – at a tag sale in New Canaan, CT at the Silvermine Arts Center (the tag sale is an annual event).
I brought my collage to Silvermine for the 90th Anniversary Exhibition, May 5-June 9, 2012 and found an art book.
I planned to write this post about Art and Dada, and by chance found a book about Arp and Dada.
Below is an image of my collage I delivered to Silvermine Arts Center. The papers are cut and torn and assembled – not by chance. The image is 16×18 inches.
I converted my collage (above) from color to black and white – to match the other black and white images from the book about Arp.
The collage is made with recycled papers. I think the elements look like totems. That is how the work got its title Recycled Totems.
Do you think Arp created his collages by chance?
Did you ever try to create a work by chance?
Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below.
Read more about Dadaism:
Dada laid the groundwork for abstract art and sound poetry; it’s a precursor to postmodernism and pop art. Read about the important artists in Dada and how the Dada movement influenced performance art, poetry and music…