Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 914 x 911 mm (36 x 35 7/8 in)
Inscribed by the artist in pencil on back ‘CHANCE, ORDER, CHANGE 12 (RED, GREEN, BLUE, MAUVE) 1980 Kenneth Martin’ on upper stretcher
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries, London (Grant-in Aid) 1980

Kenneth Martin: Late Paintings, Serpentine Gallery, London, June-August 1985 (not in catalogue)
Forty Years of Modern Art, Tate Gallery, London, February-April 1986 (no number, reproduced in colour)
Kenneth und Mary Martin, Josef Albers Museum, Bottrop, March-April 1989 (60)

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.176-7, reproduced

The series of Chance, Order, Change compositions to which Chance, Order, Change 12 (Four Colours) 1980 and the closely related Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black) 1978-9 (Tate T03190) belong was begun by Kenneth Martin in 1976 and continued until his death in 1984. It signalled a modification of the programmed system of the Chance and Order works, which preceded and overlapped with the new series. As demonstrated by Chance and Order Group VIII, Drawing 6 and Group VII, Drawing 6 (Tate T01847 and T01848), points on graph paper were selected at random, parallel lines were projected between them, and then progressively accumulated and coloured. The qualifying ‘change’ added in the new series designated the rotation of the drawing through 90º after the completion of a full set of lines; after renumbering, the sequence was then redrawn - a process repeated for each orientation. Martin envisaged the parallel lines as ‘paths’ and introduced a variation for their generation. Instead of the earlier progressive accumulation determined on a number chart, he explained: ‘When a path is cut by another it can gain a further parallel with it, thus continuing as two paths and so on. The drawing or painting is making itself’.[1] In summarising the effect, he noted:

After completing the drawing of all four directions I would have performed a symmetrical act. However not only have the first lines of the original position qualified the lines following within itself, but this process has continued throughout the work, so that I get, quite naturally, an asymmetric design. ... How I order the sequence increases the appearance of the work towards the seemingly chaotic. Time is taking a real part in producing the final configuration. It is a history picture. Time gives sequence on the surface and in depth.[2]

The effect of openness - both at the edge and within the heart of a composition like Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black) - was deliberately avoided in the closely woven lines of Chance, Order, Change 12 (Four Colours). The process of generation was fundamentally the same, although enriched by the use of colour. In 1984, soon after acquisition by the Tate, it was suggested that the sequence of application was green, red, mauve and blue, and this was associated with Alfred Hickethier’s Colour Matching and Mixing.[3] However, the artist’s system of overlapping and accumulation must place red before green and blue, with mauve - the least used - last. Furthermore, the assertion that ‘the colour changes on each occasion that the lines overlap’ is mistaken.[4] Instead, just as with Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black), lines were added at these points, and this has the effect of establishing the dominance of the red and the green. This is most evident in the red line which passes across the canvas about one third of the way up and which gains a partner on crossing a rising diagonal; the echoes of this path may be identified for each orientation - as they describe the central red square - on each occasion gaining another parallel. The muted primaries and secondaries of this scheme seem to substantiate Jeffrey Steele’s analysis of Martin’s use of colour: ‘the requirement appears to be a colour programme that exhibits identity at the levels of tonality and saturation and maximal differentiation at the level of hue’.[5] Although apparently programmatic, these works also allowed - as Andrew Demsey remarked of later examples - the ‘surprising combination of rigorous method with painterly sensibility’.[6]

Other issues relating to the Chance, Order, Change series are discussed in the related entry on Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black) 1978-9 (T03190).

Matthew Gale
October 1997

[1] Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change, Leicester 1982, p.[14].

[2] Ibid. p.[15].

[3] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.176-7.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jeffrey Steele, ‘Chance, Change, Choice and Order: A Structural Analysis of a Work by Kenneth Martin’, Leonardo, vol.24, no.4, 1991, p.413.
[6] Andrew Demsey, Kenneth Martin: Late Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985, p.3.