Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Yes, Happy Artist --- Day 9/260

Walk: Hood (to get away from DC mayhem)

Distance: 1.5 miles, yoga

Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Mobile, Triumphant Red, 1959-65, rod, painted sheet metal, wire, 

We are so used to hearing about struggling artists or starving artists that 'happy artist' seems a contradiction in terms.  But Alexander Calder, known as Sandy by family and friends, truly was one. Lifelong.  

Today he is best known for his mobiles and stabiles, but they came later in his career.  His playful and joyful artistic expressions began in childhood when he begged his parents for and was given his own home studio. He would spend hours with his first artistic tool, a pair of pliers and whatever objects might be around.  By age eight, he was already creating jewelry for his sister's dolls from beads and copper wire, and he went on to the making of small animals and board games from scavaged wood and brass.  

Calder left the studio of his youth to become an engineer specializing in mechanical engineering and applied kinetics.  His heart was always in being an artist, but his parents and grandparents, who were all artists, feared with good reason for his financial prospects.  So after graduation he tried to avoid his calling and worked in such jobs as automotive engineer, steam boat stoker and illustrator for the Police Gazette, eventually enroling in evening art classes.  At least two life changing experiences came of  these.  First, the boat allowed him many hours to contemplate movements of the planets from its deck, and to question how the constant motion of the universe could be incorporated into static art.  Second, a bit later the Gazette gave him an assignment to illustrate acts at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus.

The circus was colorful, spectaular, a child's delight and Calder fell in love with it.  It was also an art form in constant motion and stoked Calder's quest to combine movement and fine art.  Propelled by these two energies he finally determined to make art his life work and moved to Paris.  Soon after arrival he was using those pliers and everything at hand - wood, metal, cardboard, paper, yarn, string, buttons and more - to create a circus with miniature animals, acrobats and other perfomers to create his own circus.  His manual dexterity was astounding in itself, but the true wonder was his use of pullies and springs so that his little people and beasts moved.  

He was also expressing the whimsical, playful wit that infuses all his art.  Shortly his love of performance surfaced and he was regaling his new French friends with circus shows.*  'Amis' such as Marcel DuChamps and Jean Arp attended, loved Calder's circus and became lifelong friends.  And from his circus and Paris days, Calder returned to the U.S. and went on to be Alexander Calder, creator of mobiles and stabiles, while remaining a happy soul thoughout his life.

Alexander Calder, Circus, 1926-1931, Painted Wood, cloth, rubbing tubing, wire, nails, fur, pipe cleaner, cork

Alexander Calder, Elephant Trainer and Elephant, from Circus, 1926-31,


*Calder performing his circus , 1927  

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