Chance Is My Raw Material

What are the laws of chance?

What are the odds you can create a work of art according to the laws of chance?

“Chance is my raw material” is a quote from the artist Jean Hans Arp (1886-1966), a German-French sculptor, painter and poet.

Arp titled many of his works Rectangles (or Squares) Arranged According to the Laws of  Chance.

I am sure the Laws of Chance don’t actually work.

Jean Hans Arp

The image above is titled Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance.

I Tried to Drop Squares and See How They Land

I created a studio experiment with assorted papers. I wanted to see if there was any possibility I could get a result that looked like the collages by Jean Arp.

The squares never landed where I intended. I always had to move them closer together or further apart. Many squares landed on top of other squares and I wanted space between them.

Space is important and it has to be just the right amount of space.

Nancy Egol Nikkal

In the work above, I dropped the papers from arms length and had to move almost every paper from its original landing place.

I took the picture and pulled the papers off and began again.

I placed papers on top of other papers and overlapped papers. I moved further away from the paper substrate and lowered my arm as I dropped each paper hoping that the papers would land closer to where I dropped them. It didn’t work. The papers floated and I had to move them again.

On another day, I painted papers with acrylic paint on front and back sides to see if the added weight of paint would affect the way the papers dropped. It didn’t.

I changed the way I released the papers to see if they would land with more control.

I tossed the papers like a frisbee from a distance and some landed completely off the substrate paper.

I tried to flip the papers in the toss.

Chance is in the Random Order

Arp said his collages were arranged according to the laws of chance. But many texts suggest Arp  used chance in the order he selected his papers, not in the way he scattered the papers and moved them.

The chance was in the random order of their selection.

In the work below, I gathered up all the papers like a deck of cards and shuffled them to create a random order, then scattered them one by one – and rearranged them.

shuffled and placed in random order

The image below is another collage by Arp that inspires me because it is so architectural. It is also titled Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance.

Arp liked to work in black and white and grey. He said “I use very little red. I use blue, yellow, a little green, but especially black, white and grey…Black and white is writing.


I like the way the blocks lean into one another.

I decided to create my own tower. I put the red at the top. I like to think that each block is in dialog with its neighbor like a stack of talking heads. My image is below. The red block is arguing with the yellow block on the opposite tower. The green and the blue blocks are feuding  a few stories below. I inserted collage text with the words perch perch. It’s precarious and may topple.

Create Your Own Chance Collage

Here is an interesting collage project: Look at the black and white tower of blocks in Arp’s collage titled Rectangles Arranged by Chance (above).

See the blocks in terms of lights and darks. Some are also medium toned. Select papers in a range of tones from black to white.

See the blocks in terms of size and shape. Some are long vertical rectangles. Some are horizontal. Some are square. Cut blocks in assorted shapes.

See the blocks in terms of how they touch and if they are straight or slightly angled.

See how they are close together or far apart.

Obviously they are arranged.

Try to arrange blocks with reference to a harmonious balance of lights and darks and pay attention to the shapes of the spaces between the blocks.

Here’s one more thing to think about: What papers are glued down first? What do you do if you move some of the papers as you are gluing them down? Suppose the placement and tension is changed? Can you restore the composition or do you proceed with something new?

Isn’t that also about being open to chance?

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