Biography of Hans Arp
Hans Arp, also known as Jean Arp, was one of the most versatile and extraordinarily talented artists of the 20th century, recognized the world over for his invaluable contribution to art history.
Born in Alsace in 1886, Arp grew up neither fully German nor French, given Hans as his German name and Jean as his French name by his parents. He studied fine art in Weimar and in Paris, where he met some of the era’s most influential artists, including Modigliani, Picasso and Delaunay. During a visit to Munich in 1912 he met Vassily Kandinsky, and became briefly involved with the Expressionist movement “The Blue Rider”.
At the outbreak of World War I, Hans Arp fled to Zurich. Born from a deep loathing of the atrocities of war surrounding him, and a wish to break with all forms of tradition and order, he founded the Dada movement with a group of likeminded artists. Dada was primarily about doing away with convention and criticizing the status quo of the times—for the Dadaists, the visual appearance of their works was second place to the nihilistic ideas they sought to convey, through collage, ready-mades, assemblages, poetry, manifestos and performances. The Dadaists’ subversive and revolutionary ideals rapidly caught on with artists across the globe. From Zurich to Paris, Berlin, Cologne and New York, artists like Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters and Francis Picabia became key members of the movement.
As the destructive nature of Dadaism inevitably meant its own annihilation, Arp, along with several of the Dada artists, became affiliated with Surrealism. In many ways the natural successor of Dadaism, Surrealism continued to question rational thought, and seek new ways of breaking down the barriers between formalized means of expression and human instinct and experience.
Hans Arp was one of the earliest artists to work with chance, and it is perhaps his greatest legacy. He created truly random artworks by cutting out collages in trance-like states, and allowing the compositions of his works to be defined by where the papers fell on the sheet of paper. He briefly experimented with crumpling sheets of paper too, allowing the natural crushing to define the folds and forms that emerged. Arp integrated this anarchic form of sub-conscious expression into his oeuvre throughout his life, as a means of liberating himself and his work from rigidity and rules. He always titled his works once they were finished, so as not to set conscious limitations on his practice.
In the late 1920s, Arp settled in Meudon, France, but was forced to flee again to Zurich in 1942 to escape the devastation of World War II. In 1946, he returned to Meudon, where he remained for the rest of his lifetime. He passed away on a trip to Basel in 1966, leaving behind him a valuable and highly prized legacy. He received widespread recognition throughout his career and following his death, leaving a lasting impact on future generations of artists across the globe.
Besides his unique collages, paintings and sculptures, Arp wrote poetry extensively, and produced many multiples and editions over the years, on paper as well as in sculptural form. His preferred printing mediums were woodcut and lithography, and such pieces can be seen in almost every major museum collection in the Western world.