Kenneth Martin

Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black)


Kenneth Martin 1905–1984
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 911 x 911 mm
Purchased 1980

Not on display

Display caption

This painting is from an extensive series of works that developed from an earlier series also titled 'Chance and Order'. The title refers to the combination of chance events and the artist's ordering procedures that made the painting. To create the network of lines, the artist first marked a drawing with points, moving clockwise round a rectangle. Lines were then generated by taking numbers, two at a time, at random out of a bag. Martin chose eight pairs of numbers for this work. He then instigated the Change of the title by turning the drawing through 90 degrees and repeating the process. This process was repeated twice more. The drawing was then transferred to canvas.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 911 x 911 mm (35 7/8 x 35 7/8 in)
Inscribed by the artist on back in pencil ‘TOP’, ‘CHANCE, ORDER, CHANGE 6 (BLACK) 1978-9 Kenneth Martin’ on upper stretcher, and numbered ‘I’ top canvas return, ‘II’ left canvas return, ‘III’ bottom canvas return, ‘IV’ right canvas return
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)
Kenneth und Mary Martin, Josef Albers Museum, Bottrop, March-April 1989 (58)

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

Kenneth Martin, Chance and Order: The Sixth William Townsend Lecture, London 1979, p.11

In 1976 Kenneth Martin began the Chance, Order, Change compositions to which Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black) and Chance, Order, Change 12 (Four Colours) (Tate T03191) belong; with variation, the series continued until his death in 1984. They represented a fundamental 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. When choosing to make such paintings as Chance and Order 10 (Monastral Blue) (Tate T01849) Martin simply transferred the resultant composition to canvas.

The same method was followed for the Chance, Order, Change series: square drawings were numbered and mapped out. In this case the preparation is found in Drawing for Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black) (Museum of Modern Art, New York). On completion of the accumulation of lines, ‘change’ was introduced by rotating the drawing through 90º, renumbering and redrawing the sequence. This was repeated for each orientation; the transfer of this method is confirmed by the numbering of the canvas returns on Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black). 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] Summarising the effect of the process, he added:

When I turn the drawing round I repeat the first drawing in the new orientation. 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 result is clearly discernible on Chance, Order, Change 6 (Black). In an interview for the Tate with curator Richard Francis, the artist remarked upon the simplicity of the lines. They were limited to eight pairs on this canvas, and he stated: ‘I wanted to get down to as few lines as possible’.[3] This allowed both the interrelations and the addition of paths (as a result of being cut by others) to emerge. Martin also commented upon the ‘enormously different character’ achieved by not carrying the lines over the edge, and he noted that this continued in related works which ‘use the edge a very great deal’.[4]

In considering the later works to which the Chance, Order, Change series belongs, Andrew Dempsey remarked upon ‘their surprising combination of rigorous method with painterly sensibility’.[5] For his part, the artist saw analogies beyond painting, comparing the changing paths in the compositions to theatrical characters and the square to their stage. He admitted:

they’re very limited characters indeed, but they have got character and their character is within the natural context of a drawing. The stipulation is a straight line and the stipulation of a square is to render certain things neutral and powerful at the same time. You see, I could wander about choosing all sorts of different shapes for my paintings, and I haven’t done that. The square has satisfied me.[6]

Matthew Gale
October 1997

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

[2] Ibid. p.[15].

[3] Kenneth Martin, interview with Richard Francis, June 1981, Tate catalogue files.
[4] Ibid.

[5] Andrew Dempsey, Kenneth Martin: Late Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985, p.3.

[6] Interview, June 1981.