Hans Arp: Taking chances

A black and white portrait of one of the father's of modern art, Hans Arp

The virtues of planning are well documented and expounded with great enthusiasm by its advocates. Every failure in your personal and professional endeavours can, so its supporters argue, be attributed to the simple fact that whatever letdown you’ve incurred came from a decided lack of preparation.

It is viewed as a diametrical opposite of basic intuition, a critique of chaos and vital in holding the world together. Otherwise, if everything were whimsically managed, it would be utter bedlam, the Joker’s playground.

The logic of planning is therefore evident in a civilised world, but it isn’t the all-singing, polished concept it is made out to be. Not everything requires forethought. Sometimes instinct is all that matters. The universe, for example, was that the consequence of a grand design? No-one can really say. But the big bang, nothing into something, now that’s magic … life willed into existence.

Hans Arp believed in chance. One of the founding members of dadaism, the German-French painter was empowered by the movements complete rejection of logic and the requirement of old that every great work of art needed to be meticulously conceived. But, what use is the perpetuation of the past if the heart wants more?

Arp may not command the same light as Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, contemporaries whom, for a while he shared surrealist ideas with, but it would be a mistake to overlook his contribution to modernism. A sculptor, poet, collagist and engraver, he went on to pursue abstract in its purest form, arguing that a complete rejection of figurative art was needed if we were to deliver a raw work of art in its purest form. The ‘art of the accident’ can have more meaning than ‘the art of reality’.

However, part of the language of the subconscious is informed by the conscious world, therefore, what is conceived by a natural feeling – you let your hands go where they want – resolves to have a worldly definition.

Arp’s later work, for example, has a vestige of something intelligible about them, as a new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth explores: “The sculptures are broadly figurative and demonstrate a loose continuation of classical traditions, depicting curved organoid shapes which originate from an observation of nature combined with an element of fantasy. Arp’s creative process was guided by intuition and informed by chance; burgeoning, abstract forms encounter complex, introverted figures, revealing an unique visual vocabulary with a basis in biomorphism.”

What is fascinating about his forays into what has been described by the art expert Julian Heynen “positive aimlessness” – a splendid, if not frustrating truth about arguably everything – is the sense of movement they convey.

Consider for example, Ptolemy II (1958), an infinite construct that not only encircles itself, but, like space folding in on itself, reaches out through the impossible vacuums and merges with another part, and like a loop, continues and continues, without relent.

The purpose isn’t important; it is the act, the desire to explore, to simply ‘do’. Man Ray once said that “we are all a mystery” and this is central to Arp’s art. It may sound irrational, but then, what isn’t it? Even love is crazy but we go with it because in its beautiful and frenzied embrace we forget everything.

Hans Arp Chance – Form – Language (and a FRANZWESTigation) at Hauser & Wirth, London, runs until March 1st 2014.

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