Kenneth Martin

Chance and Order Group VII, Drawing 6


Not on display

Kenneth Martin 1905–1984
Crayon, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 343 × 229 mm
Purchased 1974

Catalogue entry


Crayon, pencil and wash on graph paper, 343 x 229 mm (13 1/2 x 9 in)
Inscribed by the artist in pencil ‘July 9.10 A.’ top left and ‘VII/6’ bottom left; two charts of numbers, variously circled in colour, at bottom; numbered in green ink in another hand ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12’ bottom right
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries, London (Grant-in Aid) 1974

Kenneth Martin: Paintings, Waddington Galleries II, London, February-March 1974 (not in catalogue)
Kenneth Martin, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1975 (114, reproduced in colour p.139)
Kenneth Martin, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, April-June 1979 (38, reproduced p.54)

Tate Gallery Report and Acquisitions, 1972-4, London 1975, pp.196-7, reproduced
Andrew Forge and Hilary Lane, Chance and Order: Drawings by Kenneth Martin, London 1973, pp.50-1, reproduced in colour p.51
Kenneth Martin, ‘Chance and Order’, One, no.1, October 1973, pp.3-6
Michael Compton, ‘Analysis of Selected Works’, in Andrew Forge and others, Kenneth Martin, London 1975, p.35, reproduced fig.13

Paul Overy, ‘The Work of Kenneth Martin’, Studio International, vol.189, no.975, May/June 1975, p.175, detail on front cover (colour)
Kenneth Martin, Chance and Order: The Sixth William Townsend Lecture, 1979, p.2 (colour)
Richard Whelan, ‘Here’s a Bit of Tin, Kenneth. Why Don’t You Make a Mobile?’, Artnews, vol.79, no.7, Sept. 1980, p.151 (colour)
Andrew Bogle, ‘Chance in Art: the Indeterminancy Aesthetic 2’, Art New Zealand, no.22, summer 1981-2, p.53

Kenneth Martin’s long series of Chance and Order drawings was begun during a French holiday at Le Grand Banc in the Basses-Alpes in the summer 1969. As Hilary Lane has commented, they ‘moved nearer to Mary Martin’s Minimal drawings’ and, because of her premature death that autumn, they were ‘done at a time of great sadness and loss’.[1] ‘From this time’, Lane added, ‘he ceased to invent in three dimensions’. Many of the drawings made over the period to 1972 were published in Chance and Order: Drawings by Kenneth Martin with commentaries by Lane.[2] Martin later told the Tate that the idea of the book was suggested by the Swiss constructivist Richard Paul Lohse.[3] Some of the drawings became the basis for prints and paintings - such as Chance and Order (Monastral Blue) (Tate T01849) - but this was consequential rather than their purpose. As Martin established the numbering and the ten groups for the book, the sequence did not necessarily follow that of their execution. However, it did reflect a general increase in complexity, from the linear Group I drawings to the overlapping bands of Group X.

The Martins had used number permutations which established systems outside the artist’s choice. In 1962, Mary Martin made the large collage Permutation (estate of the artist)[4] from square black and white units, and her Minimal drawings (such as Minimal Drawing, 1963)[5] schematised her reliefs into abstract patterns. Kenneth Martin’s approach was similarly circumscribed. He asserted in 1973, that the Oscillations ‘grew automatically out of a pre-ordered system of growth that developed itself inexorably. It may be said that such programming can become like surrendering to something outside oneself which is almost the same thing as using chance, where the programme ... does not allow you to visualise what the final thing is going to look like’.[6] Elsewhere he wrote of his discovery of programming-in chance: ‘I could make a sequence independent of my personality. I could be the spectator. ... All was discarded except a numbered field, the character of the activity of the drawing of lines and my sense of art with which to start at a beginning again’.[7]

The majority of the drawings in the Chance and Order series were made on standard graph paper with one inch squares divided into tenths. They occupied a square of which various points - either around the perimeter or across the intersections - were numbered. Chance was introduced by writing the numbers on cards, which were chosen at random. The artist explained further:

A line is made between each successive pair of numbers as they are picked out. In earlier drawings, to show and use the fact that each direction was drawn in sequence, a system of parallel lines was invented. They were always on the same side of the direction throughout the work. Chance determined the sequence and also the number of parallel lines to each.[8]

These parallel lines were added to the original lines and were painted to form what he termed coloured ‘bands’. Time was incorporated by ensuring that ‘each block of lines and spaces was drawn underneath the preceding ones and did not pass through them’.[9]

Chance and Order Group VII, Drawing 6, also designated as Chance and Order VII/6, occupied a square of six by six inches, with the divisions of the perimeter numbered in a clockwise direction to give twenty-four points. The general process was modified in two respects. Martin listed the randomly selected numbers in the lower left. However, by the eighth pair he crossed out this selection, probably because five of the pairs placed the lines along the square’s edge and would have minimised the effect of overlap and interaction. Instead, he adopted the sequence from the preceding drawing, VII/5.[10] Repetition was avoided by a differentiation in the direction of the lines. VII/5 was ‘right-handed’, so that the coloured bands were added to the right of the line moving from point 6 to point 13, and so on; VII/6 was ‘left-handed’ - as confirmed by the ‘L’ in the margin - so that bands were added to the left of this direction. Where the bands along the edge of VII/5 were pressed out of the perimeter of the square, those on VII/6 were more concentrated. The sequence in which the lines were drawn was indicated by reading down the columns on the number chart and by the colour on the drawing. One band was drawn between each of the pairs of numbers and then an additional band was allotted to each progressively, until the twelfth pair had twelve. This sequence resulted in the inter-weaving of the bands. Their colouring - also worked out on the number chart - followed a similar system of priority: thus the first yellow band from 6 to 13 was uninterrupted, but its orange companion was cut by the first bands between other points. As there were seventy-eight bands the colouring followed factors of thirteen: every thirteenth was orange, every third green and every second yellow. This was the scheme used for different colours on the seventy-eight bands of Chance and Order VII/2.[11] Thus both the number selection and the colour system were borrowed from earlier drawings in the series, which served to minimise the presence of chance in VII/6; indeed, the artist overrode his own system, in a way which exposes a gap between theory and practice, between surrendering and intervening.

The second number chart in the lower right of Chance and Order VII/6 served as the key for the print Chance and Order IV, 1972 (Tate P04588). It is noticeable that the neat writing differs considerably from the green numbers in the bottom right row of the drawing, suggesting that the artist was assisted in the conversion between media. That the series overlapped with the continuation of the mobiles is confirmed by the colour sample for a related screenprint on the back of Drawing for Screw Mobile (Tate T01700).

Martin’s title for the series of drawings clearly signalled both the use of chance and its control through his programming. His methods differed considerably from Arp’s pre-war collages ‘made according to the laws of chance’ in which the Martins had been interested in the 1950s. Instead, they related more directly to programmed and serial methods used by contemporary Constructivists in Europe, such as Georges Vantongerloo and Joost Baljeu, and Conceptual artists in America. In early 1969, the travelling exhibition Art of the Real: An Aspect of American Painting and Sculpture, 1948-1968 reached the Tate Gallery and introduced the work of Carl Andre, Agnes Martin and Sol LeWitt. It may have been on this occasion that Martin was impressed by LeWitt, who was making structures based on the cube and wall drawings based on the square. As Martin later remarked:

LeWitt influenced me because he is one of the people who brought me onto chance. And it was chance that helped me to go further with painting ... I can start from the very beginning with number, the number gives a rhythm and points in space. In that respect I am using number like the composers did, like Bach ... As von Graevenitz said to me: you cannot develop chance, you can only use chance again. This use of chance is the big thing for me and then this use of order.[12]

Matthew Gale
October 1997

[1] Hilary Lane, ‘Reflections’, Kenneth and Mary Martin, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1987, p.5.
[2] Andrew Forge and Hilary Lane, Chance and Order: Drawings by Kenneth Martin, London 1973.
[3] Martin in conversation, 1974, Tate catalogue files.

[4] Reproduced in Mary Martin Kenneth Martin, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council tour 1970, p.7, no.9.
[5] Reproduced ibid.
[6] Kenneth Martin, ‘Chance and Order’, One, reprinted in Kenneth Martin, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1975, p.46.
[7] Martin, Chance and Order: The Sixth William Townsend Lecture, London 1979, p.11.

[8] Exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1975, p.45.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Reproduced in Forge and Lane 1973, p.49.
[11] Reproduced ibid. p.47 in colour.

[12] Martin, conversation with Alastair Grieve, 1983, in Kenneth Martin: The Late Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985, p.18.

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