Kenneth Martin

Chance and Order, Change 6 (Monastral Blue)


Not on display

Kenneth Martin 1905–1984
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 913 × 918 × 20 mm
Purchased 1974

Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 914 x 914 mm (36 x 36 in)
Inscribed by the artist on back in pencil ‘MONSTRAL BLUE 10’ and ‘TOP á’ on upper canvas turnover
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries, London (Grant-in Aid) 1974

Kenneth Martin, Waddington Galleries II, London, February-March 1974 (no number, reproduced in colour)
Kenneth Martin, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1975 (104, reproduced in colour p.137)
Arte inglese oggi 1960-76, Palazzo Reale, Milan, February-May 1976 (157, reproduced p.156)
Aspects of British Art Today, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, February-April 1982, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Utsonomiya, April-May, National Museum of Art, Osaka, June-July, Fukuoka Art Museum, August, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo, September-October 1982 (11, reproduced)

Tate Gallery Report 1972-4, London 1975, p.198 reproduced
Andrew Forge and Hilary Lane, Chance and Order, Drawings by Kenneth Martin, London 1973, pp.72-3
Jennifer Oille, ‘Kenneth Martin’, Studio International, vol.187, no.967, June 1974, p.308, reproduced

Jasia Reichardt, ‘Order and Chance’, Architectural Design, vol.45, July 1975, p.450
Keith Roberts, ‘Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions’, Burlington Magazine, vol.117, no.868, July 1975, p.499
The Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion to the National Collection of British and Modern Foreign Art, London 1979, p.131 (colour)

Chance and Order 10 (Monastral Blue) extends a sequence of paintings first shown by Martin at the Waddington Galleries in London in 1970. He was warned against the unsympathetic lower galleries, but recalled:

I had not painted for some time and had only a few colours which were usable, but I had begun to make my first ‘Chance and order’ paintings, taking a different colour for each painting. Then when these first six were hung in the small rooms downstairs with no more than one to a wall, they and the rooms came to life.[1]

All of the continuing series were derived from the similarly entitled series of drawings of 1969-72, to which Chance and Order Group VII, Drawing 6 and Chance and Order Group VIII, Drawing 6 belong (Tate T01847 and T01848). Chance and Order 10 (Monastral Blue) was the tenth of the paintings and derived from Chance and Order Group X, Drawing 3, which is inscribed ‘drawing for painting in blue’.[2] Group X gathered the most complex drawings, in which parallel lines were drawn between sixty-four points on a seven by seven grid. The points were selected and paired at random, and their arrangement listed in an accompanying chart of four columns of eight pairs. Lines were drawn between the points on the drawing following a sequence reading across all four columns of the chart; the same sequence of reading was used for the addition of lines to the original until the eighth pair in each column had eight lines each. This additive system allowed the suggestion of time, as established lines remained uninterrupted by those that came after. Unlike the earlier drawings held by the Tate in which the lines were filled to make painted bands, on Chance and Order 10 (Monastral Blue) it was the lines themselves which were coloured; their stepped junctions helped to emphasise the interweaving.

According to the artist’s comments provided for Tate Gallery Report 1972-4,[3] the painting was made alongside Chance and Order 11 (Cobalt Blue) 1972 (private collection, Germany),[4] which derived from Chance and Order Group X, Drawing 6.[5] The simultaneous use of blues was not coincidental as most of the paintings in the sequence used single colours ‘taken from the palette and then not used for any subsequent painting’.[6] The procedure was to draw the lines in pencil on the squared-up and primed canvas; in order to accommodate the composition - which had spilled over the drawing’s seven by seven grid - the canvas grid was nine by nine. The application of paint closely followed the drawing: ‘The lines were painted first - in monastral blue - and the rest of the canvas white. A simultaneous process followed in which white and blue were continually repainted until clarity and richness were achieved’.[7] This process, which was common to the rest of the sequence, intensified the colour contrast but resulted in a rough surface with rather uneven edges to the lines, reminiscent of Seventeen Lines (Tate T00751).

Like the composition, Martin’s dense paintwork recalled Mondrian’s carefully balanced De Stijl paintings which betrayed their adjustments through the heavy working of the surface. The strength of colour on white may also be seen in the context of the painting of Martin’s younger contemporaries, especially the optical abstraction of Bridget Riley. More broadly, his programmed use of chance has been related by Jeffrey Steele to the chance work of composers such as John Cage and Howard Skempton.[8]

Matthew Gale
October 1997

[1] Kenneth Martin, Chance and Order: The Sixth William Townsend Lecture, London 1979, p.21.

[2] Reproduced in Andrew Forge and Hilary Lane, Chance and Order, Drawings by Kenneth Martin, London 1973, p.73.

[3] Tate Gallery Report 1972-4, London 1975, p.198.
[4] Reproduced in Kenneth Martin, Chance Order Change, London 1983, p.[10], fig.9.
[5] Reproduced in Forge and Lane 1973, p.75.
[6] Tate Gallery Report, p.198.
[7] Ibid.

[8] Jeffrey Steele, ‘Chance, Change, Choice and Order: A Structural Analysis of a Work by Kenneth Martin’, Leonardo, vol.24, no.4, 1991, p.409.

You might like