Life, in 2D

Alexander Calder's Gouache Works on Paper

One of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century, Alexander Calder is perhaps most widely remembered for his work in three dimensions as the inventor of mobiles, "stabiles", and wire "drawings in space." In 1953, however, a yearlong stay in Aix-en-Provence afforded an established Calder the opportunity to hone his focus on the two-dimensional plane. It was here—first in a house with no electricity, and then in a house alleged to be haunted—that Calder practiced and perfected translating his jubilant sculptures onto paper, and was later able to create such works as Yin, Yang and Pinwheel (1969). Using his preferred medium of gouache, Calder was able to express themes that defined his kinetic sculpture—fluidity of motion and a distillation of cosmic arrangements.

Yin, Yang and Pinwheel is exemplary of Calder's seamless adaptation of his sculptures' bold geometry, sense of motion, and overall joie de vivre to an alternate medium. Calder claimed that the basis of everything he made was the universe; this expansive view is on full symbolic display in Yin, Yang and Pinwheel with a bird-like pinwheel and its spiraling center, yin and yangs of duality, and circular forms for planets, cells, or seeds. The use of primary colors (with touches of orange and black) underscores Calder's preoccupation with rendering his world as a series of elemental and joyful forms.

The basis of everything I do is the universe.

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder 1898–1976

Born in 1898 to Nanette Lederer Calder and Alexander Stirling Calder, a painter and a sculptor respectively, Alexander Calder was encouraged to be creative and make things by hand. As a child he made gifts for his family and jewelry for his sister’s dolls. In 1915, Calder attended Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey graduating in 1919 with a degree in mechanical engineering because his parents didn’t want him to struggle as an artist. After completing school, Calder work a myriad of jobs including draftsman for Edison Company, a staff member at Lumber magazine, coloring maps for a hydraulics engineer and timekeeper for a logging camp.

In the spring of 1922 Calder attended night classes in drawing and the following year he decides to pursue a career as a painter. By 1925 Calder had his first art exhibition and in 1926 he made his first sculptures out of wood and wire. Calder relocated to Paris, socializing with the Parisian avant-garde, and started making mechanical toys and abstract sculptures. His kinetic works, a departure from traditional sculpture, became known as ‘mobiles’, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp.

Calder’s artistic endeavors ranged from mobiles to stabiles (static sculptures) both small and large, to jewelry and paintings. Today his works can be found in numerous museum collections around the world including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.

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