the art of ballOOn-painting

by uwe kurz

Hans Arp (1887-1960)


Hans ArpIn 1887 Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp is born as a son of a cigar manufacturer and his wife in Strasbourg/Alsace. Character and poet talents of the older of two sons is rapidly obvious. Hans Arp visits the art and vocational school of Strasbourg from 1901 to 1903, where he already questions the traditional teaching methods. He is not able to express his view of the reality by bare imitation.
In 1904 Arp publishes his first poems. By private instruction through the painter Georges Ritleng Arp enters the »Stürmer«-Circle around René Schickele, Ernst Stadler and Otto Flake in Strasbourg/Alsace. They decline the pathos of the official culture. Starting from 1904-1908 Arp studies in art at the art school Weimar and at the Académie Julian in Paris/France. Through his uncle, living in Paris, he comes into contact with the art-scene and, by Rainer Maria Rilke´s introduce, he gets to know Rodin. He visits Rodin in his studio in 1905. In 1911 Arp becomes founder of the artists´ union »Moderner Bund« in Switzerland. He becomes acquainted with Wassily Kandinsky and with the expressionistic group of artists »Der Blaue Reiter« in Munich/Germany. In 1913 Arp publishes some articles in the expressionistic magazine »Der Sturm« in Berlin/Germany. After the beginning of World War I he goes back to Switzerland. In 1915 Arp´s abstract artwork is exhibited for the first time in Zurich/Switzerland. Here he becomes acquainted with his future wife Sophie Taeuber, a painter too.

Sophie Taeuber and me painted, embroidered and stuck in the year 1915 pictures, which were probably the first works of ›concrete art‹. These works are independent, independent ›realities‹. They do not have a rational sense; they do not rise from the seizable reality. We rejected everything that could be imitation or description, in order to let the elementary and spontaneous one in us freely work.
(zit. after Dada. An international movement 1916-1925. Catalog to the exhibition 1993).


In 1916 Arp illustrates Tristan Tzaras´ (1896-1963) »25 poems«. Arp follows a group of artists, who meet regularly in the Café Voltaire in Zurich/Switzerland, in order to express publicly their pacifistic adjustment. Beside Tzara also Hugo Ball (1886-1927) and Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974) belong to this group, which justifies »the Dada movement« in Switzerland and organizes regularly a kabarett for presenting their dadaistic artwork.  
    In 1917 Hans Arp discovers in Zurich/Switzerland coincidentally the chance/coincidence as a composition principle:

Arp had operated for a long time in his studio on a drawing. Unsatisfied he finally tore up the page and let the pieces flutter to the ground. After a while his view fell coincidentally again on this pieces, which were situated on the ground, their arrangement surprised him. This was the expression, which he had looked up for in vain for the whole time. How meaningfully they were situated there, how expressive! Not beeing successfull before, the chance/coincidence causes movement of the hand and the movement of the fluttering pieces of paper for a strong expression. He took up this challenge of chance/coincidence and stuck carefully the pieces in the order, which was determined by the coincidence.
(Hans Richter)

If one examins the arrangement and relatively even the distribution of the paper pieces without any overlap, then Arp must have nevertheless substantially corrected the coincidence in his collage. Hans Richter, who concerns to underline the historical contributions/services of the Zurich Dadaists to art has to limit later:

... Arp was determined by the conscious selection seeing of the final form...

In 1919 Arp moves to Cologne and formes friendship with Max Ernst and Johannes Baargeld (1892-1927). With both artists Arp stands for the »Cologne Dadaism«, whith a political provokante work. Together they publish the marxist oriented satire magazine »Der Ventilator«. In 1920 Arp turns with his work more strongly to the abstract Surrealism. In 1922 he marries Sophie Taeuber, who gives lectures on textile sketching at the college of arts and crafts in Zurich/Switzerland. Her calm, symmetrical compositions of embroideries, in textile material and paper stimulate the work of Hans Arp, while she evaluates Dada- themes in plastics (»Dadakopf«, 1918) and appears as a dancer on Dada meetings. More than Hans Arp represents Sophie Taeubers early work a quite non-standard connection of Dada and constructionalism. Her puppets for Carlo Gozzis´ play »King Deer« (performance 1918 on the occasion of a »Werkbund«- exhibition) are well-known.
    In 1923 Arp begins a cooperation with the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) living in Hannover/Germany. Arp writes some articles for the »Merz«-magazine. His linguistic innovations and jokes are (in a dadaistic skurrile manner) typical for the poet Arp. It would spoil the fun about his partly surreal, partly grotesc plays on words, twisting and fragmenting of words, if one would look for »any deeper« sense. Arps art of poetry is not by any means an artistic subplot, but an equivalent expression of his abstract work, with an outstanding differentiated rhythm.
    He goes to Paris and participates there in the first group exhibition of the surrealist artists. Together with Sophie Taeuber he turnes from the cubistic painting to the use of natural materials, like wood, paper, wool, silk and other textile material. Homogeneous surfaces compete with the dynamics of his forms. In 1926 Arp moves to Meudon (today: Clamart) in France. On the 20th of July he becomes a French citizen. In the twenties he developes innovations in relief artwork, particularly between abstractions, which still show a figure and free, non-representational shapes. In consequence Arp becomes one of the pioneers of non-representational plastics.
    In 1931 Arp devotes to the work on abstract plastics and enters the French group of artists »Abstraction Création«, which is led by Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965). The group operates in its artwork with pure abstraction. Arp develops an organic stylistic idiom similar to the growth of nature. His work is characterised by meditative peace and harmony, which reminds of the aesthetics of the far east. But the irony under the surface of his work is the inheritance of Dadaism. His art blends more and more the two opposite languages of art, the geometrical and the organic, and in late late work they can be separated any longer.
    In 1940 Arps´ work is regarded and forbidden by the national socialists as »Entartete Kunst« (degenerated art). After the German occupation of France Arp flees to Grasse (near Nice) into the vacant part of France. In 1941 Arp moves to neutral Switzerland and establishes himselve in Zurich. In 1943 Sophie Taeuber dies. Between 1950-1969 Arp designs several large plastics for the Universities of Harvard and Caracas as well as for the building of the UNESCO  in Paris. Between 1952-1958 Arp travels to Greece, Mexico and into the USA. In 1959 he moves to Locarno (Switzerland) and marries Marguerite Hagenbach. In 1960 he travels to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. On the 7th of June Hans Arp dies in Basel/Switzerland.


Uwe Kurz

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