The Artistry of Alexander Calder

photo by Hans Bug at the German language WikipediaMany people have seen and admired the work of Alexander Calder but that doesn’t mean they actually recognize his name. Best known for his monumental articulated mobiles, he fabricated his intricate designs from steel and usually painted them in vivid colors. These elegant sculptures shift and move, striking a variety of poses as the wind and the world changes.

L'empennage from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Born from an artistic bloodline, Alexander followed in the footsteps of his family. Credited with creating mobiles (and stabiles), his most celebrated works are a form of kinetic sculpture. The delicate balance of his work contrasts sharply to the raw medium of working in metal. The large scale of many of his pieces actually downplays the intricacy of creating such elegance with suspensory materials.

La Grande Vitesse in Michigan

Crinkly avec disc rouge in Stuttgart, photo by Rufus46

Not all of his work is intended to capture motion. He also created a number of sculptural displays called stabiles (one presumes the word is a playful reaction to the recognized motion of mobiles) and his lesser known wire compositions. Although Calder came from a family of accomplished artists, his professional interest in the field was somewhat desultory until he visited Paris in the 1920s. It was during this time period that he met and became friends with a number of modernists who would go on to redefine the modern aesthetic for decades.

Eagle in Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle

While his early work was primarily small in stature, over time he became interested in monumental scale. It is in these larger works that his engineering education meshes with artistic inspiration.

L'Homme in Quebec, photo by Idej Elixe

Like many artists, Calder didn’t limit his focus to only one type of medium or design. He also created jewelry and provided illustrations for numerous publications, the most notable a volume of the Fables of Aesop. Having become one of the most celebrated modern sculptors of the twentieth century, he also became an inspiration to generations of students. Especially, when it comes to creating mobiles. If you’ve never tried to make one, they can be fun and incredibly frustrating to balance. Here are instructions on how to make your own Calder-inspired mobile.

Red Mobile

An inveterate traveler, Calder completed sculptures all over the world. Living in both France and the U.S., we are fortunate to have many examples of his work available in public spaces. Take a minute out of your day to visit the Calder Foundation and admire some of his work.

Should you find yourself on the road any time soon, and think you’d like to see some of Calder’s work, you’ll find he’s represented in galleries and museums around the world. Artcyclopedia has an impressive listing of locales where his work may be found. If you happen to be in the market for an original work, check out the Artnet Database to see what is currently available.

Here is a wonderful video about Alexander Calder by the Students of Bingham:

Calder room at the National Gallery of ArtHis work is interesting in scope and scale. The organic quality brings to mind associations with the paintings of the Futurist movement of the early twentieth century, especially those fascinated with trying to capture and portray a sense of dynamism and motion.

Photo by Carlos Luis M C da CruzOne should also appreciate the intrinsic aesthetics of his chosen medium. By using  common construction materials, Calder stretched the mundane into something of unique value. Like the beauty found in concrete art deco bridge abutments and the unfinished high-rise structures like the Eiffel Tower, the girders and beams Calder used in constructing his monolithic sculptures visually celebrate the power of engineering.

Photo by Eva EkebladDon’t you want to visit a Calder site? Explore the shadows beneath the span? Admire the simple achievement of meshing whimsy with steel and landscape? Art is all around us – but sometimes it takes the ingenuity of artists to remind me us how to see it.

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