Jean Arp

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'Shirtfront and fork' - relief in painted wood, c. 1922
'Constellation According to the Laws of Chance' - relief in aluminium, c. 1930

Jean Arp / Hans Arp (16 September 18867 June 1966) was a German/French sculptor, painter, poet and a founding member of Dadaism. Later he engaged himself with the French surrealists and lived in Paris. (When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as "Hans", and when he spoke in French he referred to himself as "Jean".)

Quotes of Jean Arp[edit]


  • Structures of lines, surfaces, forms, colours. They try to approach the eternal, the inexpressible above men. They are a denial of human egotism. They are the hatred of human immodesty, the hatred of images, of paintings.. .Wisdom (is) the feeling for the coming reality, the mystical, the definite indefinite, the greatest definite.
    • text by Hans Arp himself in a catalogue of his own exhibition, Zürich 1915
  • We painted embroidered and made collages. All these works were drawn from the simplest forms and were probably the first examples of concrete art. These works are realities pure and independent with no meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected all mimesis and description, giving free reign to the elementary and spontaneous.
    • his quote on cooperation with his future wife Sophie Täuber ca. 1916, as quoted in: Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 65
  • the streams buck like rams in a tent / whips crack and from the hills come the crookedly combed /shadows of the shepherds. /black eggs and fools’ bells fall from the trees. / thunder drums and kettledrums beat upon the ears of the donkeys. / wings brush against flowers. / fountains spring up in the eyes of the wild boar.
    • a Dada poetry line from his poem 'Der Vogel Selbdritt' Hans Arp; first published in 1920: Gesammelte Gedichte I (transl. Herbert Read), p. 41


  • Concretion signifies the material process of condensation, hardening, coagulating, thickening, growing together. Concretion designates the solidification of a mass. Concretion designates curdling, the curdling of the earth and the heavenly bodies. Concretion designates solidification, the mass of the stone, the plant, the animal, the man. Concretion is something that has grown. I want my work to find its
    • Jean Arp (1931), as quoted in: Eric Robertson (2006) Arp: Painter, Poet, Sculptor, p. 108
  • Art is a fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant, or a child in its mother's womb.
    • Jean Arp (1931), as quoted in: Rosalind E. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture (1981), p. 138


'Impish Fruit', wood (walnut) relief, 1943
'Cloud Shepherd' - bronze sculpture, 1953
'Feuille se reposant' - bronze sculpture, 1959
  • Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts. While guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might. We were seeking an art based on fundamentals, to cure the madness of the age, and find a new order of things that would restore the balance between heaven and hell. We had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds.
    • in Dadaland (1948); Quoted in: Cosana Maria Eram (2010) The autobiographical pact: otherness and redemption in four French avant-garde artists, p. 20
    • Quote of Jean Arp refers to Swiss Dada in Zurich after 1914
  • As the thought comes to me to exorcise and transform this black with a white drawing, it has already become a surface.. .Now I have lost all fear, and begin to draw on the black surface.
    • Hans Arp's quote on drawing on the black surface, in: Search for the Real, Hans Hofmann, Addison Gallery of modern Art, 1948
  • Whatever became of Kurt Schwitters' novel "Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling" [Franz Müller's Wire Spring] several chapters of which we composed together? Is it buried under the bomb ruins of his house on Waldhausenstrasse in Hannover? For hours, Schwitters and I sat together and spun dialogue, in rhapsody. He took these writings and channeled them into his novel.. .We sat together again, writing 'Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling':
H. A.: The nightingales have had enough of your hymnal Karagösen. Play violin on parrots, but avoid the women red hood ans snow widow.
K. Schw.: Should I pe-trify something for you? Or would you like play cry together?
H. A.: Should we wash our tears or drown them?
K. Schw.: You are a sipsnipper, Since when do your diamonds bark?
H. A.: The water is getting hard. A fruit cries out loud and gives birth to a fish.
K. Schw.: I'll p-ut it in the sea, or should I st-ab you wth it?
  • Dialogue with Hans Arp and Kurt Schwitters (1956) with introduction in: Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling-- Memories of Kurt Schwitters: As quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken, commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, 2000, pp. 139-140
  • Then we went down to his work room, in the horrible beautiful Merz grotto [the 'Merz-Haus', built by Schwitters], where broken wheels paired with matchboxes, wire lattices with brushes without bristles, rusted wheels with curious Merz cucumbers.. ..How often did we ‘p-lay’ in this room! Schwitters called playing, considering the sweat, working. There we glued together our paper pictures, and as I tossed away one of my glued-together works one morning, Schwitters asked, 'You don’t like it? Can I have it?' – 'What do you want with this failed piece of toast?' Schwitters took a good look at it and said, 'I’ll put what’s on top on the bottom, I’ll stick a little Merz nose in this corner and I’ll sign the bottom Kurt Schwitters.' And, yes indeed, this collage became a wonderful picture by Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters was a wizard, just as Hokusai was a wizard.
    • 'Franz Müllers Drahtfrühling – Memories of Kurt Schwitters Hans Arp 1956; as quoted in I is Style, ed. Siegfried Gohr & Gunda Luyken - commissioned by Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam - NAI Publishers, Rotterdam 2000, pp. 140-141
  • Sculpture should walk on the tips of its toes, unostentatious, unpretentious, and light as the spoor of an animal in snow. Art should melt into and even merge with nature itself. This is obviously contrary to painting and sculpture based on nature. By so doing, art will rid itself more and more of self-centredness, virtuosity and absurdity.
    • Jean Arp (1958) in: Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories. p. 327
  • The man who speaks and writes about art should refrain from censuring or pontificating. He will thus avoid doing anything foolish, for in the presence of primordial depth all art is but dream and nature.
    • Jean Arp (1958) in: Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories. p. 327


  • A deep and serene silence filled her structures composed of colors and surfaces. The exclusive use of horizontal and vertical rectangular planes in the work of art, the extreme simplification, exerted a decisive influence on my work. Here I found, stripped down to the limit, the essential elements of all earthly constructions: the bursting, upward surge of the lines and the planes toward the sky, the verticality of pure life, and the vast equilibrium, the sheer horizontality and expansiveness of dreamlike peace. Her work was for me a symbol of a divinely built 'house' which man in his vanity has ravaged and sullied. [a remark on the art of Sophie Täuber, whom he later married.]
    • in Abstract Painting Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964, p. 58
  • In 1915 Sophie Tauber and I carried out our first works in the simplest forms, using painting, embroidery and pasted paper [without using oil colors to avoid any reference with usual painting]. These were probably the first manifestations of their kind, pictures that were their own reality, without meaning or cerebral intention. We rejected everything in the nature of a copy or a description, in order to give free flow to what was elemental and spontaneous.
    • quote on creating art without using oil colors to avoid any reference with usual painting, in The Art of Jean Arp, Herbert Read, Abrams, New York 1968, p. p. 34, 38
  • It was Sophie ( Sophie Arp Tauber, woman artist and later Arp’s wife) who, by the example of her work and her life, both of them bathed in clarity, showed me the right way. In her world, the high and the low, the light and the dark, the eternal and the ephemeral, are balanced in prefect equilibrium.
    • in 'Unsern täglichen Traum', Hans Arp; p. 76; as quoted in Arp, ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa, S. A., Barcelona 1988, p. 11

Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs, 1966[edit]

Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs Gallimard, Paris 1966 - this book gathers almost all Arp’s work in prose and some important poetry.

  • Dada was given the Venus of Milo a clyster and has allowed the Laocoön and his sons to rest awhile, after thousands of years of struggle with the good sausage Python. The philosophers are of less use to Dada than an old toothbrush, and it leaves them on the scrap heap for the great leaders of the world.
    • p. 63
  • In recent times, Surrealist painters have used descriptive illusionistic academic methods.
    • p. 63 in a letter to Jan Brzekowski, ca. 1930, co-publisher of the Franco-Polish magazine 'L’art contemporain'
    • Hans Arp's critical statement refers to the art of the French Surrealists in which Arp participated for a few years
  • We do not wish to copy nature. We do not want to reproduce, we want to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces a fruit and does not itself reproduce. We want to produce directly and without meditation. As there is not the least trace of abstraction in this art, we will call it concrete art.
    • p. 183: Serge Fauchereau (1988) Arp, p. 20 commented: "Even though his work was nonrepresentational, Arp disapproved of the term 'abstract art' being applied to it, as he often explained" with the above quote.
  • I wanted to find another order, another value for man in nature. He should no longer be the measure of all things, nor should everything be compared with him, but, on the contrary, all things, and man as well, should be like nature, without measure. I wanted to create new appearances, to extract new forms from man. This is made clear in my objects from 1917.
    • p. 183
  • These painting, these sculptures – these objects – should remain anonymous, in the great workshop of nature, like the clouds, the mountains, the seas, the animals, and man himself. Yes! Man should go back to nature! Artists should work together like the artists of the Middle Ages. In 1915, O. van Rees, A.C. van Rees, Freundlich, S. Tauber [she became later his wife] and I myself made an attempt of this sort.
    • p. 183
  • Already in 1915, Sophie Tauber divides the surface of her aquarelle into squares and rectangles which she then juxtaposes horizontally and perpendicularly [as Mondrian, Itten and Paul Klee did in the same period]. She constructs them as if they were masonry work. The colors are luminous, ranging from the raw yellow to deep red or blue.
    • p. 288, Arp refers to the early watercolor painting art of his wife Sophie Tauber.
  • I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born, I have confidence in it [refers to automatic painting]. I do not think about it. The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands.
    • p. 307
  • In the good times of Dada, we detested polished works, the distracted air of spiritual struggle, the titans, and we rejected them with all out being.
    • p. 307
  • Like the disposition of planes, the proportion of these planes and their colors seemed to depend only upon chance, and I declared that these works were ordered 'according to the law of chance', just like in the order of nature.
    • p. 307
  • Since the time of the cavemen, man has glorified himself, has made himself divine, and his monstrous vanity has caused human catastrophe. Art has collaborated in this false development. I find this concept of art which has sustained man’s vanity to be loathsome.
    • p. 315
  • I like nature but not its substitutes. Naturalist art, illusionism, is a substitute for nature. I remember that in arguing with Piet Mondrian [in Paris, 1920's], he opposed art to nature saying that art is artificial and nature is natural. I do not share this opinion. I do not think that nature is in natural opposition to art. Art’s origins are natural.
    • p. 359
  • Each one of these bodies [art-works which Arp had made] certainly signifies something, but it is only once there is nothing left for me to change that I begin to look for its meaning, that I give it a name.
    • p. 383
  • I did exhibitions with the Surrealists [in Paris, in 1929] because their attitude revolted against 'art' and their attitude toward life itself was wise, as was Dada’s.
    • p. 406
  • These collages were static symmetrical constructions, porticos with pathetic vegetation, the gateway to the realm of dreams. They were done with colored paper in black, orange or blue dye plates. Although cubist painting interested me very much, not a trace of their influence was to be found in my collages.
    • p. 420 - quote on his early collages, Arp made ca. 1914.
  • Actually, it was in Paris in 1914 that I did my first collages, for an occultist friend. They were mysterious porticos which were supposed to replace mural paintings and which evoked the structure of palm branches or fishbones [remark on his first collages in different materials].
    • p. 430
  • Ever since my childhood, I was haunted by the search for perfection. An imperfectly cut paper literally made me ill, I would guillotine it. My collages came undone, they became blistered. I then introduced death and decay in my compositions. I reacted by avoiding any precision from one day to another. Instead of cutting the paper, I would tear it with my hands.
    • p. 431
  • At daybreak I found on my sculptor’s turntable a little mischievous form [a small plaster form of Impish Form, Arp made in 1949], alert and somewhat obese, with a stomach like a lute. It seemed to me like an imp. I called it that. And all of a sudden one day this little character, this imp, through a Venezuelan medium, found itself to be the father of a giant [Arp enlarged it]. This giant son resembles its father like an egg resembles another egg, a fig another fig, a bell another bell.
    • p. 431
  • To be full of joy when looking at an oeuvre is not a little thing.
    • p. 571 - Hans Arp's quote he made in 1962 in Galerie Denise René - this remark is also the last line in the art book Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs, Gallimard, Paris 1966

Attributed from posthumous publications[edit]

  • Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation...tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.
    • Arp on Arp: poems, essays, memories, Viking, 1972, p. 231
  • It was Sophie who, by the example of her work and her life, both of them bathed in clarity, showed me the right way. In her world, the high and the low, the light and the dark, the eternal and the ephemeral, are balanced in prefect equilibrium.
    • 'Unsern täglichen Traum', Hans Arp; p. 76; as quoted in Arp, ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa, S. A., Barcelona 1988, p. 11
  • Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.
    • Quoted in: Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 66
  • A painting or sculpture not modeled on any real object is every bit as concrete and sensuous as a leaf or a stone.. ..(but) it is an incomplete art which privileges the intellect to the detriment of the senses.. (art must be like..) fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant or a child in it’s mother’s womb. (circa 1930)
    • Anna Moszynska, Abstract Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1990, p. 113

Quotes about Jean Arp[edit]

  • Based on the metaphysical implications of the Dadaist dogma.. ..Arp’s Reliefs [carvings] between 1916 and 1922 are among the most convincing illustrations of that anti- rationalistic era.. .Arp showed the importance of a smile to combat the sophistic theories of the moment. His poems of the same period stripped the word of its rational connotation to attain the most unexpected meaning through alliteration or plain nonsense.
    • Marcel Duchamp's quote, in 'Appreciations of other artists': Jean (Hans) Arp (sculptor, painter, writer) 1949, by Marcel Duchamp; as quoted in Catalog, Collection of the Societé Anonyme, eds. Michel Sanouillet / Elmer Peterson, London 1975, pp. 143- 159
  • As we liked to do as children, extracting from the soft forest floor the light chestnut trees only a few centimeters high at the base of which the chestnut continues to shine to the sun its clods of soil from the past, the chestnut conserving all of its presence and witnessing with its presence the power of green hands, of shadow, of airy white or pink pyramids of dances.. ..and of future chestnuts which, under new dust, would be discovered by the marveled sight of other children. It is in this perspective that the work of Arp, more than any other, should be situated. He found the most vital in himself in the secrets of this germinating life where the most minimal detail is of the greatest importance, where, on the other hand, the distinction between the elements becomes meaningless, adopting a peculiar under the rock humor permanently.
    • André Breton, his quote on Hans / Jean Arp, in Anthologie de l’humour noir, André Breton; as quoted in "Arp", ed. Serge Fauchereau, Ediciones Poligrafa S. A., Barcelona, Spain, 1988
  • Arp, yes, was one of the artists that I was interested in. And that reminds me of a friend of those times, Frederick Kiesler, who was an architect and painter, a man of all trades, and who said this word about Arp: "This is Arp, not art." [Laughs.]
    • w:Leo Castelli, in 'Oral history interview with Leo Castelli', by Nina Sundell, 1997 May 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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