Artist Spotlight – Alexander Calder

Nov 29, 2020Artwise Posters
Artist Spotlight – Alexander Calder
JULY 27, 2018 

Calder is an artist whose work most people can recognize, the prolific American sculptor who created one of the most iconic and unique visual styles in modern art — practically inventing an entire genre, kinetic sculpture, that is still spearheaded by his visionary work even to this day. Born in Philadelphia in 1898, Calder came from a family of artists, his grandfather and father being renowned and publicly recognized sculptors and his mother a professional portrait artist. Early on his parents voiced that they did not want him to suffer the life of an artist, so he decided to study mechanical engineering, something he seemed to have a natural intuition about from a young age. It is apparent that his artistic genes were not to be forgone however, inescapably infused into all that he expressed— his graceful and inspired compositions are clearly the results of an effortless combination of both his artistic instincts and his affinity with engineering.

Though most known for his sculpture, he created a great volume of works in many different mediums including painting and printmaking, miniatures, children’s book illustrations, theater set design, jewelry design, tapestries and rugs, and even political posters. What tied together this vast range of expressions could be identified as an investigation into abstract surrealism, drawing inspiration from the movement and balance found in the natural world. Often containing biomorphic forms, his innate sense of lightness and whimsy is tempered by an unwavering understanding of how the world assembles itself, reflecting the blissful unpredictability combined with the stability of structure seen within nature. This strong and distinctive vantage point led to Calder being widely considered one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century.

Alexander Calder – The S-Shaped Vine, offset lithograph 2016

An image that perhaps sums up the many aspects of Calder’s brilliance is The S-Shaped Vine, a classic example of his playful abstract rendering of plant forms that shift with awe-inspiring movement. The surprising balance he achieves in this sculpture reveals Calder at his best.

Alexander Calder – Morning Star and Untitled, offset lithographs 2016, 2012

These other two sculptures, Morning Star and Untitled, seem to almost display his mind at work, being more like material descriptions of thoughts or imagination rather than of objects themselves.

"...his graceful and inspired compositions are clearly the results of an effortless combination of both his artistic instincts and his affinity with engineering."
Alexander Calder – Maeght Editeur, stone lithograph 1971

In Maeght Editeur, a first edition stone lithograph print for his 1971 exhibition at the infamous Galerie Maeght, he applies the same distillation and stylization of nature seen in his sculptures, a purely Calder-esque flavor. Amongst friends he was known for his good humor and mischievous, amiable outlook, something that undoubtedly colors much of his work.

Alexander Calder – Derriere le Miroir no.173, stone lithograph 1968

The Derriere Le Miroir publication was an ideal venue to showcase the simplicity and musicality of his creative voice— even when working with the human figure, a beautiful piece like this Derriere le Miroir no. 173 print can hold its own also as abstract form.

Alexander Calder – Spirales and Derriere Le Miroir Cover 173, stone lithographs 1974, 1968

We can look at stone lithograph prints Spirales and Derriere Le Miroir Cover 173 to see that he is not afraid to be painterly and imprecise, something perhaps uncommon amongst mechanical engineers. His compositions seem wholly satisfying, and show a refreshing sort of ease.

Alexander Calder – Sun and Moon and Derriere le Miroir, stone lithographs 1968

In Sun and Moon and another piece from Derriere le Miroir he is more representational yet no less surrealistic, employing his sense of fun and seriousness at the same time— the stark color choice and decisive shape rendering allowing for a clear and direct line straight to the inventive origins of these beguiling figures.

Alexander Calder – La Grenouille et la Scie, stone lithograph 1971

When he takes the abstraction to an extreme we end up with works like La Grenouille et la Scie, which translates to The Frog and the Saw, still working with humor inexorably.

Alexander Calder – Calder Derriere Le Miroir 156, stone lithograph printed book 1966

And to indulge in a full suite of the Calder experience, an entire 1966 issue of Derriere Le Miroir 156 is devoted to his lithography, a first edition printed by Maeght Editeur including four loose leaf double-page stone lithograph spreads. His fluent radiance is capable of creating an immediate connection with a distinguished and enlightening humanism.

Alexander Calder – Calder Derriere Le Miroir 156, stone lithograph printed book 1966, inner pages

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