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Title Chance And Order IV
Collection fineart.ac.uk
Artist Kenneth Martin
Nationality British
Description The complete suite of prints was produced in editions of 70 and 75. Like Victor Pasmore, Kenneth Martin was a leading member of that post-war group of Constructivists, centred on Camberwell School of Art, who exhibited together in three weekend exhibitions at Adrian Heath's studio 1952-53. Martin's essay 'Abstract Art' in Broadsheet No.1, published to coincide with the first post-war collective exhibition of abstract art at the AIA in 1951, discussed the use of the square, circle and triangle as primary elements within a truly abstract painting. The employment of such basic elements provided a 'pictorial architecture' with 'aspirations towards music' and 'an analogy with nature' in its gradual growth on the basis of proportions. The last remark suggests shades of d'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form, while Le Corbusier's use of modules and literature on proportion in art by Ghyka, Hambidge and Power provided a basic theoretical underpinning. Martin's 'screw mobiles' from 1953 onwards were built with a simple sequence of brass strips angled around a vertical rod which could vary in angle, width and length of strip and rotation then 'drew' the final helical form. They typify Martin's commitment to simple sequences 'like the notes on a piano' and a few simple rules producing results which 'could be like a fugue.' Given Martin's early move from painting to the use of actual movement as well as three dimensions, his return to two dimensions in 1969 might seem a surprise. Yet his mobiles had been preceded by drawing as much as was his 'Chance and Order' series. Moreover, Martin has described his mobiles as 'drawings in three and four dimensions', and both 'screw-mobiles' and two-dimensional works developed from the putting together of basic linear units. Martin has talked about his consistent interest 'in the form-making power of sequence, of monotony and of changing rhythm.' His two-dimensional works can be read in terms of the sequence of events of their making, though one needs to acknowledge not simply elements of continuity but importantly his new involvement with the notion of chance, stimulated perhaps by developments in modern music (Cage) or other arts (Mallarmé).
In his 1982 Ruskin School lecture, Martin described his procedure:
The perimeter of a square is marked off at regular intervals, say 8 or 12 to a side. These points are numbered 1 to 32 or 1 to 48. Then the numbers of the set chosen are written on slips of paper, then picked at random, one by one, to give a sequence of points. A line is drawn from the first point picked to the second, then from the third to the fourth, until there is a complete configuration made by a succession of discontinuous straight lines . . . The lines are paired to become paths and no path crosses another . . . [This] shows sequence . . . When a path is cut by another it can gain a further line parallel with it . . . I then can turn the drawing round . . . Chance gives me. . . my 'motif'. The order I can develop.
The pairing of lines producing pathways or multiplying of these add spatial play and interweaving, while colours 'are used for the identification of figures or of systems of movement.' Colour sequence becomes 'part of the constructing rhythm of the whole and can be in harmony or in opposition.' The white ground is positively activated by the sheaving of lines together and even in the second print by utilizing white as colour. The first configuration in the set is identical to that in Granada Television's oil Chance and Order 8 (five colours) (Catalogue of the retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery, 1975, cat.102).
Location Current Site Arts & Humanities Research Council, Whitefriars, Lewins Mead, Bristol, BS1 2AE.
Measurements Dimensions 686 x 686 mm
Material ink and paper
Biography 1905: Born in Sheffield
1923-29: Worked in Sheffield as a designer
1930: Married Mary Balmford
1946-67: Visiting teacher at Goldsmiths' College of Art, London
1948-49: First Abstract Paintings
1951: First Kinetic Constructions
1969: First Chance and Order works
Death of Mary Martin
1971: Awarded OBE
1976: Honorary Doctorate, Royal College of Art
1984: Died in London


Kenneth Martin is widely regarded as one of the fathers of British Constructivist Art. Having been trained in the realist tradition of Sickert, he came to abstraction in the late 1940s after working as a designer and painting naturalistic pictures for two decades. Before his death in 1984, Kenneth Martin not only sought to redefine abstract art but to align thought, feeling and imagination with the method of creating a work of art.

As his art evolved he discovered new means of inventing and manipulating basic structural elements. With his Screw Mobile sculptures of the early Fifties he investigated the dynamics of movement exploiting the tension or contrast between stillness and the changes caused by the functions of twist and rotation.

Towards the end of his life Kenneth Martin embarked on a series of paintings and works on paper which he called the Chance and Order Series. In the simplest versions, a grid was set up on paper and its points of intersection numbered. Corresponding numbers were drawn 'out of a hat' ie. by chance. Each pair of numbers then became a line on the grid. Although the underlying structure remained the same the resulting correspondences produced a seemingly endless succession of combinations. With these works there was therefore a double invitation to explore the paintings and drawings as statements about an inventive process, and to contemplate the products that were generated by that process. The combination of randomness and definite rules left the artist free to invent in an exact sense. You can only develop order but not chance, you can only use the chance again.
Education 1929-32: Studied at the Royal College of Art, London
1927-29: Studied at Sheffield School of Art
Awards 1976: Midsummer Prize, City of London
1965: Gold Medal, President of the Italian Council of Ministers, on the occasion of the International Congress of Artists and Critics at Verucchio
Institution Council for National Academic Awards
Rights Owner Paul Martin, son of the late Kenneth Martin
Rights Status UK HE use only
Technique screen print
Work Type print
 

 

 

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