'Navel, Moustache and Biomorphic Forms'


Jean (Hans) Arp

(September 16, 1886; France - June 7, 1966; Switzerland)

German-French sculptor, painter, poet.  One of the founders of abstract sculpture and Dadaism. Arp also worked extensively in the field of literature.

  • Nationality: French, German
  • Art Movement: Abstract Art, Dada, Surrealism
  • Field: painting, sculpture, literature
  • Influenced on: Yves Tanguy, Edgar Negret
  • Friends and Co-workers: Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Maruja Mallo, Endre Rozsda

   Read Jean Arp's essays, poems and fiction in our Online Library

Associated with Dada and Surrealism, Jean Arp is best-known for his biomorphic sculptures made out of plaster, stone, and bronze. As one of the most versatile creatives of the beginning of the 20th century, he also expressed himself in paintings, drawings, collages and poems.
Characterized by wavy lines, he often referred to his sculptures as the organic abstraction. Representing plants or human figures in organic forms, his sculptures were firmly rooted in nature. He titled his works after the form was already generated to minimize the intervention of the conscious mind. In this way, he embraced a chance and spontaneity as integral components of the artistic process.
His biomorphic forms inspired by nature hugely influenced generations of creatives working with abstraction.

Art Works


The Star




Human Concretion

The Dream

Torso Preadamite

Evocation of a form: human, lunar, spectral

Cloud Shepherd

Resting Leaf

DADA/Surrealism Works

Birds in Aquarium

Terrestrial Forest Form

Tete Paysage

Shirt Front and Fork


Frond and Navel

Head with Mustache

Print for the cover of Dada 4

Christ on the Cross II

Before my Birth


The poetry of forms

Portfolio of seven lithographs "7 Arpaden", published as the fifth issue of Merz magazine. The title “Arpaden” is a made-up word meaning “Arp things”

Merz Cover


The Sea

A Navel

The Navel Bottle


Egg Beater

Arabic Eight

In 1923 Arp published "7 Arpaden" with his friend Kurt Schwitters. This portfolio of prints contained simple pictograms of everyday objects, a set of personal symbols that became the foundation of Arp’s "langage-objet" (object-language). Arp made painted wood reliefs incorporating this visual vocabulary. Their titles emulated his nonsensical verse: plates, forks, moustaches, chairs, bow-ties, butterflies, tables and eggs were placed in humorous and absurd juxtapositions on an irregular-shaped background or in a frame.

The navel was a recurring symbol that signified the source of all creativity as well as birth, growth and fertility. 



  • "I hereby declare that on February 8th, 1916, Tristan Tzara discovered the word Dada. I was present with my twelve children.. .and I wore a brioche in my left nostril. I am convinced that this word has no importance and that only imbeciles and Spanish professors can be interested in dates. What interests us is the Dada spirit and we were all Dada before the existence of Dada.." [from Arp's 'Declaration', October 1921]


  • "Art is a fruit growing out of man like the fruit out of a plant like the child out of the mother.. .Reason tells man to stand above nature and to be the measure of all things.. ..through reason man became a tragic and ugly figure.." [c. 1932]


  • "These paintings, these sculptures – these objects – should remain anonymous, in the great workshop of nature, like the clouds, the mountains, the seas, the animals, and man himself. Yes! Man should go back to nature! Artists should work together like the artists of the Middle Ages." [c. 1941–42]


  • "Sculpture should walk on the tips of its toes, unostentatious, unpretentious, and light as the spoor of an animal in snow. Art should melt into and even merge with nature itself. This is obviously contrary to painting and sculpture based on nature. By so doing, art will rid itself more and more of self-centredness, virtuosity and absurdity." [in 'Arp on Arp', 1958]


  • "I allow myself to be guided by the work which is in the process of being born, I have confidence in it [Arp refers to automatic creation]. I do not think about it. The forms arrive pleasant, or strange, hostile, inexplicable, mute, or drowsy. They are born from themselves. It seems to me as if all I do is move my hands. [1960s]


Literary Works


From The Man Who Lost His Skeleton

novel by Jean Arp, Leonora Carrington, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Georges Hugnet, Henri Pastoureau, Gisèle Prassinos, et al.

Chapter Four: The Skeleton on Vacation

(By Jean Arp)

The skeleton was as overjoyed as a lunatic having his strait jacket removed.  It was a true release for him to be able to stroll about without the burden of flesh. The mosquitoes no longer bit him.  He no longer had to have his hair cut.  He was no longer hungry, thirsty, cold, or hot. He was far from the lizard of love and its bourgeois, far from the milk of concubines, far from the lunar mucus.  The tenor-mushrooms that grew on the meridians no longer preoccupied his mind.  A German chemistry professor, who planned to convert him into delicious ersatz, dynamite, strawberry jam, sauerkraut with sausages... etc., lay in wait for him for a certain length of time. The skeleton easily managed to put him off the scent by dropping the bone of a young zeppelin, and the professor flung himself upon it, reciting chemical anthems and covering the bone with hot kisses that were ever so slightly incestuous. ... Read more



Fruit Free-for-All

stop acting like a skull
in a chariot full of shining stars
wedged in between two nights I sing
as the spider sings who weaves his web

who weaves his web on the face of the air
his mirror-colored web
hope melts like a lead-echo
in the bottomless, mirror-colored evening

so there

while I lick my own body
as the day licks its own body
between heaven and lunch
a cannon shoots at a green soul
a cock hops about on crystal crutches
behind the bell of a mammal
that flies through the posture of the air
and whinnies like female wood

so there

there there
so I said there
or did I say so there
so there's the morning star

so there

so so
so I said so
or did I say there
there's the so morning star

the tongue is useless for speech
you'd do better to use your feet for speaking
than your bald tongue
you'd do better to use your navel for speaking
the tongue is good
for knitting monuments
for playing third or fourth fiddle
for cleaning braided whales
for fishing for polar roots
but above all the tongue is good
for hanging out of the mouth
and drifting in the wind


Read more Jean Arp's poetry in our online library


Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp, better known as Jean Arp in English, was born in Strasbourg, France, the son of a French mother and a German father, during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after France had ceded it to Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law determined that his name become "Jean". Arp would continue referring to himself as "Hans" when he spoke German.

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Jean Arp at work



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