As a child, Arp wanted to do naturalistic paintings, as he recalled in his memoir, On My Way: "One day, I tried to paint on a windowpane a blue sky beneath the houses I saw through the window...Another time, 1 hung a frame in a little wooden shack and sawed a hole in the wall behind it to reveal a charming landscape animated by men and cattle." This man, who was imagination personified, succeeded in creating an artless art—the spontaneous expression of life—after receiving a thorough technical training, from 1904 to 1908, at the School of Decorative Arts, in Strasbourg and in Weimar, Germany, and the Académie Julian in Paris. Arp met Sophie Taueber, married her in Zurich in 1915, and together they created tapestries, embroideries, papiers collés and "duo-drawings," made with their eyes closed. In Zurich, Arp was one of the founders of Dada, as evinced by his woodcuts—irresistibly outlandish objects, like the Bouteille à nombril, "a monstrous household utensil combining a bicycle, sea serpent, brassiere and absinthe spoon," and collages like the Fatagaga, made with Max Ernst in Cologne in 1920. In 1925 he returned to Paris and lived in a studio on Rue Tourlaque for a year before permanently settling in Meudon. Arp's cardboard and painted wood reliefs of this period are not sculptures, but experiments in concrete painting. He once said that between his reliefs and his collages there was "only a difference of thickness." Arp developed his torn-paper genre early on—eventually showing the works in 1931, at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery—claiming that a drawing was more interesting torn and randomly reassembled: "By tearing up a paper or a drawing, we put into it the very essence of life and death." In his strictly surrealist period, Arp utilized a repertory of elementary forms—an egg, a human head, a shell, a bell, a clock, waves, etc. While he was making his first sculptures in the round, titled Concretions, Arp, without abandoning surrealism, was also active in the Abstraction-Création movement. Yet he was only seeming abstract, as he often created with his eyes closed: "You need only lower your eyelids for the inner rhythm to flow into the hand with greater purity." In 1942 Arp sought refuge in Switzerland, where Sophie died shortly after, and did not return to Meudon until 1946. He was awarded the Grand Prize in sculpture at the Venice Biennial of 1954, and began doing monumental works for public buildings, including Berger de Nuages for the Caracas University residence hall (1953); reliefs for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1957) and the Technische Hochschule in Brunswick, Germany (1960); Coupe des Nuages for the University of Bonn library (1961); and the cement Stelae and Walls for the Basel School of Applied Arts (1961). Arp denied that he had become exclusively a sculptor, and instead described his three-dimensional works as "poetry rendered plastically." Throughout his life, Arp was also a poet, and his Poems, stories and autobiographical writings are collected under the title Jours Effeuillés (Gallimard, 1966), [English edition: Arp on Arp].
Born 1886 in Strasbourg, Germany; died 1966 in Bâle, Switzerland.