ARP Jean (or Hans)
French painter, sculptor, poet, born in Strasbourg in 1887, died in 1966. The part that Arp has played, and continues to play, in the sphere of the arts is considerable. Like his antithesis Mondrian, he has not set up a school but has followers of varying degree of skill. But the catalytic action of these two pioneers is such that they find themselves, often unwittingly, in the midst of every controversy and every advance in art today.
Very much attracted to painting, and considerably shaken by his first contacts with modern art in Paris in 1904, Arp managed to prevail on his parents to send him to Weimar to study at the Academy ( 1905-1907), and then to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian in 1908. But this official instruction failed to appeal to him, and he retired to meditative isolation in Weggis, Switzerland. There he met Klee in 1909. In 1912 he paid a visit to Kandinsky in Munich, and took part in the famous Blaue Reiter exhibition. The following year he went to Berlin where, together with the leading Expressionists, he took part in the Erste Herbstsalon (First Autumn Salon) organized by Walden, who, in his magazine Der Sturm, had already published some curious drawings by Arp, human figures sketched in undulating lines. In 1914 he was back in Paris, where he met Max Jacob, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Delaunay. When war broke out, he returned to Switzerland, and in December 1915 he exhibited his first abstract works at the Tanner Gallery, Zurich, paintings in generally rectilinear forms. But he gave up ordered movement almost immediately, in order to give preference to objects 'arranged according to the law of chance, rudimentary, irrational, mutilated, broken', already heralding Dadaism, which he founded at the beginning of 1916, together with Tzara, Janco, Ball and Hülsenbeck. The movement held its noisy sessions at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, and Arp remained one of its central figures, contributing to all its publications. In 1916 he illustrated Hülsenbeck's Phantastische Gebete (Fantastic Prayers) with a series of abstract woodcuts which he called studies in symmetry. In 1917 he brought out his first polychromatic reliefs and, the following year, his first woodcuts in the form of spots to illustrate Tzara's Cinéma Calendrier du Cœur Abstrait. Meanwhile he had made the acquaintance of Sophie Taeuber, who later became his wife, and he was for a while influenced by her more severe art. Together they created large collages of geometrical, rectilinear cutouts ( 1918).
In Cologne, in 1920, he collaborated with Baargeld and Max Ernst in new Dadaist enterprises. Fie met Schwitters in Hanover in 1923, and contributed to the Merz review, which published, among other things, a series of his lithographs entitled 7 Arpaden. In 1925 he published, together with El Lissitzky, The Isms of Art, a survey of all the movements then in existence. The following year he went to live at Meudon, near Paris, with his wife, Sophie Taeuber, and became a member of the Surrealist group ( 19261930). At the same time, in collaboration with Sophie Taeuber and Theo van Doesburg, he undertook the decoration of the café dansant 'L'Aubette', in Strasbourg, an important piece of work which has since been destroyed. Arp was a member of the Circle and Square group, and took part in its international exhibition in April 1930. The following year he became a member of the Abstraction-Creation group. This was the period of pictures made out of bits of twine and torn paper, and of the first sculptures in full relief, in which Arp accentuated more and more that supple and clear-cut style which has earned him universal renown. All this time he continued to write poetry, sometimes in German, sometimes in French. He is equally well versed in both cultures. In 1940, fleeing before the invading Germans, Arp and Sophie Taeuber took refuge in Grasse, without interrupting their poetic or plastic work. In the course of a clandestine journey to Switzerland his wife was killed in an accident in January 1943. After the Liberation several important exhibitions of his work were held in New York, where his monograph On My Way appeared in 1948. In 1949 and 1950 Arp himself went to the United States, where he enjoys a considerable reputation. A collection of his poems in French, Le Siège de l'air, was published in Paris in 1946. In 1952 Curt Valentin published his Dreams and Projects in New York. In 1953 two collections appeared in Germany: Word Dreams and Black Stars in Wiesbaden and Hairy Hearts in Frankfurt. In the same year Arp executed a large bronze for the university city of Caracas, which he entitled Cloud Shepherd.
Arp is a sensitive artist, but one who seeks clarity of line and original purity of form. He likes to compare art to a fruit that has to be born of man, in the same way that other fruits grow on trees. In fact, much of his work reflects the suppleness of the plant world without, however, any attempt at imitation or description. Arp's constant concern is to create as easily as he walks, to model as freely as he breathes. His ideal is natural simplicity linked with perfection of organic form. This very Greek love of perfection combined with lack of artifice explains the admirable unity of his work, which cannot be compared with any other of this century. In between the various currents of Dadaism, Surrealism and Abstract Art, Arp has created a kind of cross-roads that is his exclusively, and can be defined only by using his name. Whether it be poetry, collage, relief, sculpture, or torn bits of paper, Arp brings into modern life an element of simplicity and calm, always tinged with humour. His work is a kind of new Arcadia, a soothing haven in the midst of a frenzied, machine-age world.
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