Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder is famous for developing unique moving sculptures known as mobiles (a description coined by the artist, Marcel Duchamp).  He worked in a range of materials such as wire, sheet-metal, wood, often using wit and humour to create colourful and finely crafted works of abstract art.  One of his best-known pieces is a  miniature circus made up of wire sculptures of animals, clowns and acrobats which he animated by hand.


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Spirals and Petals, c.1969
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Early Years

Alexander Calder was born in 1898  in Lawnton, Pennsylvania. His father was a sculptor (many of his public works can be seen in Philadelphia) and his mother a painter and he was encouraged to be creative from a young age.  Despite his artistic talent, however, Calder graduated with an engineering degree and worked as an engineer on board a ship.  It was while on the deck of a ship off the Guatemalan coast that Calder witnessed a brilliant sunrise on the horizon and, still visible on the opposite horizon, an equally brilliant full moon.  This experience made a great impression on him and was to be source of inspiration to him throughout his life. 

1920s and 1930s

In 1923, Calder moved to New York to study art and in 1924, while working as an illustrator for a magazine, he was sent to sketch scenes from a circus.  This was the beginning of his life-long interest in the circus and when he went to Paris in 1926 he created a complex piece of art entitled Cirque Calder which featured tiny performers and animals which he manipulated manually.  He was able to pack this little show into a suitcase and travelled with it, performing it in Paris and New York to the delight of audiences.

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Skybird
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Composition, c.1957
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Mobiles

Calder began to sculpt portraits of friends and public figures using wire and his reputation grew as his work was featured in more and more exhibitions.  He travelled between New York, Paris and Berlin and met many prominent artists of the period, finding great inspiration in Mondrian’s paintings.

He began to experiment with the use of mechanical systems in his work and then discovered that he could make sculptures (given the name ‘mobiles’ by Marcel Duchamp) that would move freely by themselves in currents of air.   In 1932, Calder’s reputation was consolidated by the first exhibition of his mobile sculptures in the United States.

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Pinwheel and Flow, c.1958S
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La Grenouille et Cie
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Galerie Maeght, 1976
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1940s onwards

In 1933, he returned to live in the United States with his wife and family.  From the 1940s onwards, Calder completed many large-scale outdoor sculptures which can be seen in cities through Europe and the United States.  His output was prolific.  As well as his sculptures, he designed jewellery, theatre sets and architectural interiors and produced drawings and paintings in oil and watercolour. 

In 1966, Calder published his Autobiography with Pictures with the help of his son-in-law, Jean Davidson.  He died on November 11, 1976, shortly after opening a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Les Renforts Sculpture Calder
Les Renforts (the reinforcements)

In 1987, the Calder Foundation was founded by Calder's family. The Foundation "runs its own programs, collaborates on exhibitions and publications, and gives advice on matters such as the history, assembly, and restoration of works by Calder."  http://calder.org/home

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Gouaches et Totems, 1966
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Helisse, At Pace
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Composition V
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