"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions."
(Alexander Calder, 1933)
Alexander Calder's inventive sculptural artworks reveal the invisible forces of the universe. Gravity, air, time and chance are brought buoyantly to life through organic shapes and fantastic, dreamlike subject matter. One of the few Americans who was part of the exclusive and prolific Parisian art world in the 1920s, Calder's artistic talents were internationally renowned by the 1960s.
Born the second child to artist parents, Calder was encouraged to create from a very young age. Driven by his love of tinkering with mechanical things, Calder's first career was in engineering. Later, he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League where he discovered that he "had a knack for line drawing."
Encouraged by European modern artists in the early 1930s, Calder's work turned toward abstraction and motion. During a visit to Dutch painter Piet Mondrian's Paris studio, Calder observed how the walls were covered in various coloured cardboard rectangles. Calder credited the visit with the "shock that started things." He began to form an entirely new type of art - the kinetic sculpture - Calder's major contribution to modern sculpture. Fellow artist Marcel Duchamp, dubbed his motor-driven sculptures "mobiles." Referring to both motion and motive, the French pun "mobile" duly described Calder's work as well as a new category of kinetic art.
Calder's urge to travel the world contributed to the development of his work. His motor or hand-crank mobile sculptures gave way to playful works that were naturally powered by air and wind. Organic shapes replaced geometric ones in Calder's early mobiles as their movement became more spontaneous and natural. Consider Calder's Jacaranda (1949), which floats gracefully, occupying a space many times greater than the mass of the sculpture itself. The contrasting vertical and horizontal organic forms were inspired by the jacaranda tree, which the artist saw during a visit to Brazil.
Calder estimated that he created over 2,000 mobiles, rarely planning them out beforehand. Instead he preferred to work directly with the materials balancing the wires on his finger to work out their equilibrium: "I begin at the small ends, then balance in progression until I think I've found the point of support. This is crucial, as there is only one such point and it must be right if the object is to hang or pivot freely."
In his later artistic career, Calder applied his abstract elements in primary colours to paintings, drawings, jewellery and tapestries and was commissioned to make a number of monumental public sculptures throughout the world. He represented the United States at the 1952 Venice Biennale, winning the grand prize in sculpture attesting to his international stature that endures today.