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Alexander “Sandy” Calder was born to Alexander Sterling Calder in Lawton, Pennsylvania on July 22nd 1898. His father was a well known sculptor who created many public installations mostly in Philadelphia. His Grandfather also Alexander, was a sculptor as well, and was born in Scotland but moved to Philadelphia in 1868.
In 1905 Sterling developed tuberculosis and Alexander’s parents moved to Arizona for a year leaving Alexander and his sister Margaret with family friends. In 1906 the children met their parents and they continued to stay in Arizona for a year after which his family moved to Pasadena, California.
In the 4th grade Alexander built a dog and a duck from sheet brass as a Christmas gift, this showed his skill at an early age. They moved back to Philadelphia in 1910.
Alexander studied in Germantown Academy and Croton-on Hudson while in Philadelphia. Then during high school the family moved to NYC where he studied in Yonkers High.
Between 1912-1915 while Alexander was in high school his family constantly moved between New York and California. Towards the end of these years he decided to stay in California to graduate from Lowell High School in San Francisco in 1915. In 1917 he decided to study mechanical engineering and enrolled in Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
In 1925 he moved to back to New York after working as a hydraulic engineer in NY Edison company after which he became a mechanic on H.F Alexander, a cruise ship which sailed from New York to San Francisco. On returning in 1925 he enrolled in the Arts’ Students League where he studied until he moved to Paris in 1926.
In 1929 Calder began making toys in Paris and sold them to the Salon de Humoristes. Later that year he began his first work which was the Cirque Calder, a miniature circus made from wire, string, cloth, rubber and other objects that he had found. It was small enough and designed to fit in a suitcase so that Calder could do shows on both sides of the Atlantic. His shows were improvised and recreated the performance in a real circus.
Towards the 30’s Calder used his fondness and skills to start making his “Mobiles” artworks that provided a new perspective to art as they were kinetic.
By the end of 1931, he moved on to more delicate sculptures which got their motion from the breeze in the room, using cutout shapes similar to natural forms (birds, fish, falling leaves). Dating from 1932,his new sculptures were labeled “Mobiles” by MarcelDuchamp.
At the same time, Calder was also experimenting with self-supporting, static, abstract sculptures, dubbed "stabiles" by Arp in 1932 to differentiate them from mobiles. He produced a number of works made largely of carved wood during WW2 due to lack of available metal. After the War he began to cut shapes from sheet metal into expressive forms and paint them in his signature colours.
His many projects from the late 20’s include pen-and-ink line drawings of animals for a 1931 publication of Aesop’s fables. As Calder’s sculpture moved into the realm of pure idea in the mid-1930s, so did his prints. The thin lines used to define figures in the earlier prints and drawings began defining groups of geometric shapes, often in motion. From the 70’s- 80’s Calder began producing works for large companies like BMW where he was commissioned to paint their vehicles, etc.
In the 50’s Calder began focusing more on large sculptures such as .125 for JFK airport and La Spirale for UNESCO. Most of his sculptures were manufactured by an external company who used Calder Made models to produce a scale sculpture. The operations were looked over by Calder and if necessary made changes to the final product. His Stabiles were usually made in Carbon Steel, while the mobiles were made in Aluminum and then painted
Calder made around 1800 pieces of jewellery over his career, most as gifts. He used mostly brass and steel, with bits of ceramic, wood and glass. Calder rarely used solder; when he needed to join strips of metal, he linked them with loops, bound them with snippets of wire or fashioned rivets
Cirque Calder is an artistic interpretation of a circus created by Calder. It involves wire dummies rigged to perform the various functions of the circus entertainers they portray including contortionists, lion tamers and sword eaters The models are mostly made of items like wire and wood. Calder began improvising performances of this circus during his time in Paris and would comment in French during the performance.
Poisson Volant or Flying Fish is one of Calder’s famous mobiles or mobile art works that were built. It was built in 1957 using sheet metal, wire and paints. Calder constructed the art work using the metal and the wire which was then strung so it may have mobility. It is painted in a deep black and the wire used is also black in colour and it piece measures 24” X 89”.
La Grande Vitesse is a monumental Stabile designed by Alexander Calder. It is located on the large concrete plaza surrounding City Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States. It was built in Tours, France and assembled on the plaza. The sculpture is 43 ft. tall, 50 ft. long and 30 ft. wide. It is painted in Red which was one of Calder’s signature colors. The name is French for “Great Swiftness” or “Grand Rapids”.
Calder’s Artistic evolved massively over time from jewellery to his stabiles and also his signature Mobiles and Cirque Calder. Most of his art works were made in metals and then painted by him into bright colours like red and yellow. They were also very intricate and all the joints were made using wire. His works like the Stabiles were usually enormous and built using large sizes of sheet metal and they were usually displayed outdoors. His Stabiles, being so big, were mostly only designed by Calder and then assembled and painted by workers. He also tried to combine his styles at times, like in “Crinkly avec disc Rouge” which was a monumental Stabilewitha Mobile attached.