Alexander Calder Paper

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Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder was one of the most innovative and original American artists of the
twentieth century. In 1926, Calder arrived in Paris and devoted himself to a project
called the Circus that occupied him for over five years. This contains characters and
animals made out of wire, scraps of cloth, wood, cork, labels, bits of scrap metal and
pieces of rubber. Calder transported his little theater in suitcases and performed it for
his friends. During his performances, Calder invented ways to simulate the flight of
birds: "These are little bits of white paper, with a hole and slight weight on each one,
which flutter down several variously coiled thin steel wires which I jiggle so that they
flutter down like doves…" (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography with Pictures [New York:
Pantheon, 1966], p.92) The Circus is the laboratory of Calder's work; in it he
experimented with new formulas and techniques. "By 1930," sculptor historian Wayne Craven
has written, Calder's "Circus had become one of the real successes of the art world of
Montparnasse, as well as among the Paris intellectuals. Jean Cocteau, Fernand Leger, Joan
Miro, Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp... and others were captivated by it, whereas none of them
paid much attention to Calder's wood carvings. Such encouragement undoubtedly led him to
try more serious experiments in wire sculptures." During this same period he developed
wire figures such as Josephine Baker, The Negress, and the Portrait of Edgar Varese, while
continuing to draw and to create circus scenes. Next he worked in wood, creating The
Horse, The Cow, female nudes, and Old Bull, between 1928 and 1930, eventually becoming
interested in the movement of objects, some with motors. Calder discovered what he wanted:
"to paint and work in the abstract" (Calder, p.133). He created relief paintings such as
White Panel (1934) and applied himself thereafter to creating sculptures based on the
plastic dynamics of asymmetry. Calder discovered the leaders of avant-garde, the
Abstraction-Creation group. Under their influence, Calder began to look into Boccioni and
Moholy-Nagy's theories, using sculptures in motion.

In 1933, Calder completed Object with Red Discs, a sculpture he described as a "two-meter
rod with one heavy sphere, suspended from the apex of a wire. This gives quite a
cantilever effect. Five thin aluminum discs project at right angels from five wires, held
in position by a wooden sphere counterweight" (Calder, p.149). Thus the idea of the mobile
was born in 1934. By 1939, Rusty Bottle proved that Calder was capable of "exploring all
the consequences of his plastic investigations." In his autobiography he said, "I had been
working on things that went round and round, driven by a small electric motor- some with
no motors- some with a crank" (Calder, p.126) That same year, Calder unveiled Dancing
Torpedo Shape in painted wood and wire and equipped with a small motor.

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