Alexandre Calder

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Biography of Alexandre Calder ( 1898-1976 )

Calder was born in 1898 in Pennsylvania, the son of an artist’s family. A very bright student aged 25; he gave up a promising future as an engineer to devote himself to painting and sculpting.

From 1923 to 1926, he studied drawing and painting at the Art Student League in New York, making a leaving by sending humoristic sketches to the NY Police Gazette, the most famous being a series of drawings illustrating the Barnum Circus.  He also published a book, « Animal Sketching » where he has gathered studies of animals in the Zoos of the Bronx and Central Park. The same year he exhibited his paintings for the first time in New York and started doing some small size iron wire sculptures.

In 1928, he went to Paris and studied at the Academy Grande Chaumière. He exhibited at the salon des Indépendants, then at the Weyhe Gallery in New York, and in 1929, at the Gallery Billiet in Paris.

He travelled frequently between New York, Berlin and Paris, where he became acquainted with Miro, Léger, Le Corbusier, Theo Van Duisburg and mainly Mondrian, whose art will have a huge influence on the artist. « Mondrian's studio was large, bright and irregular, a reflection of his paintings – a kind of spatial transfer », and, according to the artist himself, this experience would lead him towards abstraction.

Alexander Calder admits that the two main factors that lead him to abstract painting were, first,the vision  he had once, at twilight, of both the sun and the moon illuminating the seascape  at the same time while he was sailing across South America and, secondly, his visit of Mondrian's studio.

For a long period, Calder drawings and sculptures have been quite similar by the choice of the subjects he depicted. A world of playful and abstract signs, circus evocation, small animals, constellations and symbols of the cosmos, were invading his works in a palette of primarily colors, of luminous red, sunny yellow, and black. A quiet restricted palette in accordance to Mondrian's neoplastic rule. On the opposite, the shapes are free of any rule. They use the same poetical and playful language as Calder's sculptures: discs, triangles or circles, appear aside traditional decorative motives like spirals and laces, as well as figurative patterns: tiny snakes, insects, butterflies, spreading around in a freedom of rule within a joyful and humoristic space.

From the start of his artistic career, Calder had developed a great interest and fondness in painting with gouache, a medium that allowed him to combine his love for drawing and his passion for vivid colors, with a rapid brushstroke. During his entire life, gouache will remain his favorite painting medium that he will use with a tremendous sense of color, a characteristic of his works, all around the world.

It is during the years 40/50's that he will be the most prolific. Alike his friends the artists Paul Klee, Juan Miro and Mondrian, he invented a new universe of spontaneous and poetical signs, whether reducing the cosmos to simple and stylistic symbols representing the sun, the moon and the stars, whether drawing a poetical and magical floating world of insects, flowers and small animals. In 1953, he bought a house in Saché, a French countryside near Tours. There, he set up a studio devoted entirely to painting, naming it his “gouacherie”, where he will work daily until his death. Offering regard more subdued and hidden on his work, his gouache illustrate fully his poetical inclination. Considered as real artworks, they are like his sculptures but presented on one dimension only.

The happiness carried over by Calder's predilection for bright and vivid primarily colors, the richness and the fantasy of his pictorial universe, and the humor within, relate totally to his conception of “mobiles”. “A poem dancing with the joy of life and its surprises” Alexander Calder died in New York in November 1976. Very prolific artists, of international fame, his works are exhibited in the most important museums of the world. His influence on 20th century’s art is huge, especially towards abstract-impressionism and Action painting. But most of all, his artwork is a testimony of his humor, freshness, and childhood innocence and freedom.

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