Jean Tinguely

Chaos I


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Etching on paper
Image: 350 x 480 mm
Purchased 1986

Catalogue entry

P77175 Chaos I 1972
Etching 350 × 480 (13 3/4 × 18 7/8) on Arches paper 485 × 660 (19 1/8 × 26); plate-mark 359 × 480 (14 1/8 × 18 7/8); printed by Penneguin, Paris and published by Jacques Putman, Paris in an edition of 300
Inscribed ‘Tinguely’ b.r. and ‘112/300’ b.l.
Purchased from Galerie Jacques Benador, Geneva (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Lit: ‘Parole d'artiste (Extraits d'une interview de Jean Tinguely recueillie par Charles Goerg et Rainer Michael Mason en juin 1976)’ in Jean Tinguely: Dessins et gravures pour les sculptures, exh. cat., Cabinet des estampes, Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva 1976, pp.13–16

P77175 is one of a number of prints and drawings associated with the sculpture ‘Chaos I’, 1975 (repr. Geneva exh. cat., 1976, p.88), which was commissioned from the artist by J. Irwin Miller, art collector and owner of Cummings Diesel, Columbus, Indiana, where the sculpture is sited in the Civic Mall. With its almost total absence of colour and its formal vocabulary of circles and triangles, the sculpture relates back to the geometric forms of Tinguely's work of the 1950s. ‘Chaos I’ was highly sophisticated mechanically, and its construction, which began in 1973, was not complete until 1975. Tinguely explored an idea for a second sculpture in two works on paper (repr. ibid., p.113 nos.333–4). However, the sculpture, which was to be titled ‘Chaos II’, was never completed.

P77175 was made before the construction of ‘Chaos I’ began. It is closely related to the first drawing of the sculpture which Tinguely sent to Miller and which was published in a local Indiana newspaper (repr. ibid., p.89). According to the artist (ibid., p.13), the drawing was important in establishing the idea for the sculpture:

On the same day I may draw different machines, and also I often draw variants while I am actually constructing, in order to find other solutions. And I often happen on parallel ideas, I glimpse other possibilities. In the case of Chaos, a drawing was published in a magazine which is very clear. It was the first drawing I made for Chaos and I sent it to Miller. It was through that drawing that Chaos was born - there the drawing immediately became a primary tool. Without drawing I would never have been able to dominate the situation - drawing became essential.

Tinguely made a large number of works on paper in connection with ‘Chaos I’. Apart from the first drawing, he made forty-one others using a variety of materials including pencil, biro, felt pen, ink, watercolour and gouache (repr. ibid., pp.89–98, nos.233–72, 274). Most of these drawings are dated 1974. He also made a considerable number of lithographs (see Geneva exh. cat., 1976, nos.273, 275–9, repr. pp.98–9), all of which were unique prints, retouched by the artist, with collage added to nos.277–8. Nos.275 and 277–9 are dated 1974. Further lithographs are nos.284–5 (repr. ibid., p.100) and nos.286–303 (repr. ibid., pp.100–3), which are artist's proofs or numbered works from an edition of twenty made in 1974, each of which has been retouched by the artist. Tinguely made only five etchings related to ‘Chaos I’, of which P77175 is from the only dated edition (ibid., no.280, repr. p.97). The others are a drypoint in an edition of 100, (ibid., no.281, repr. p.99), a drypoint with aquatint (ibid., no.282, repr. p.99), an etching (ibid., no.283, repr. p.99) and a second state of the latter (ibid., no.283, repr. p.99). In all four undated intaglio prints the definition and distribution of working parts is much closer to the final sculpture than in P77175 and also closer to the basic depiction of the work underlying the lithographs and drawings of 1974. This is particularly apparent in the detail of the large corkscrew which moves from a quite central position in P77175 and the early drawing to a peripheral location in the 1974 prints and drawings and, indeed, in the sculpture itself.

At every stage in a sculpture's conception and execution (before, during and after), drawing has always been an integral part of Tinguely's working method. He did not, however, explore print-making until he had completed in 1976 the sculpture entitled ‘Vittoria’ (repr. ibid., p.77) for the festival celebrating the tenth anniversary of Nouveau Réalisme held in Milan in November 1970: ‘Talking about Vittoria and the prints published after the festival, I called it jou-jou. What does the word mean? “Playing” with something means looking for the variant, understanding what one has just done, considering the object in itself in order to perhaps make a second or third version’ (ibid., p.14).

According to Tinguely (ibid., pp.14–15), the printmaker Jacques Putman persuaded him to make etchings for the first time. However, he found little in the medium to sustain his enthusiasm:

In reality I didn't take it very seriously, but there was a reason for doing it - Putman's enthusiasm, which was overwhelming. He kept insisting, he kept wanting it. So I made a few trials for him... I have a certain ease of approach which is useful when I do dry-point and particularly etching. That's what suits me best because it's easy, non-serious ... In an engraving there is often something that you wouldn't find in a drawing. For example with dry-point, its incredible fineness. But there is also the handicap that the image is always reversed. When I'm working on an engraving I feel better than afterwards, when I see the result.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996