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Because his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, received public commissions, the family traversed the country throughout Calder's childhood. Calder was encouraged to create, and from the age of eight he always had his own workshop wherever the family lived.
For Christmas inCalder presented his parents with two of his first sculptures, a tiny dog and duck cut from a brass sheet and bent into formation. The duck is kinetic—it rocks back and forth when tapped. Even at age eleven, his facility in handling materials was apparent.
Despite his talents, Calder did not originally set out to become an artist. He instead enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology after high school and graduated in with an engineering degree.
Calder worked for several years after graduation at various jobs, including as a hydraulics and automotive engineer, timekeeper in a logging camp, and fireman in a ship's boiler room. While serving in the latter occupation, on a ship from New York bound for San Francisco, Calder awoke on the deck to see both a brilliant sunrise and a scintillating full moon; each was visible on opposite horizons the ship then lay off the Guatemalan coast.
The experience made a lasting impression on Calder: Calder committed to becoming an artist shortly thereafter, and in he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League.
He also took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette, which sent him to the Ringling Bros. The circus became a lifelong interest of Calder's, and after moving to Paris inhe created his Cirque Calder, a complex and unique body of art.
The assemblage included diminutive performers, animals, and props he had observed at the Ringling Bros.
Fashioned from wire, leather, cloth, and other found materials, Cirque Calder was designed to be manipulated manually by Calder. Every piece was small enough to be packed into a large trunk, enabling the artist to carry it with him and hold performances anywhere. Its first performance was held in Paris for an audience of friends and peers, and soon Calder was presenting the circus in both Paris and New York to much success.
Calder's renderings of his circus often lasted about two hours and were quite elaborate.
Indeed, the Cirque Calder predated performance art by forty years. Calder found he enjoyed working with wire for his circus. He soon began to sculpt from this material many portraits of his friends and public figures of the day.
Word traveled about the inventive artist, and in Calder was given his first solo gallery show at the Weyhe Gallery in New York.
This exhibition was soon followed by others in New York, Paris, and Berlin; as a result, Calder spent much time crossing the ocean by boat.
He met Louisa James a grandniece of writer Henry James on one of these steamer journeys and the two were married in January In October ofCalder visited the studio of Piet Mondrian in Paris and was deeply impressed by a wall of colored paper rectangles that Mondrian continually repositioned for compositional experiments.
He recalled later in life that this experience "shocked" him toward total abstraction. For three weeks following this visit, he created solely abstract paintings, only to discover that he did indeed prefer sculpture to painting.
In the fall ofa significant turning point in Calder's artistic career occurred when he created his first truly kinetic sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The first of these objects moved by systems of cranks and motors, and were dubbed "mobiles" by Marcel Duchamp—in French mobile refers to both "motion" and "motive.
Arp, in order to differentiate Calder's non-kinetic works from his kinetic works, named Calder's stationary objects "stabiles. Calder converted an icehouse attached to the main house into a studio. Their first daughter, Sandra, was born inand a second daughter, Mary, followed in He also began his association with the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York with his first show in James Johnson Sweeney, who had become a close friend, wrote the catalogue's preface.
Calder also constructed sets for ballets by both Martha Graham and Eric Satie during the s, and continued to give Cirque Calder performances. Calder's earliest attempts at large, outdoor sculptures were also constructed in this decade. These predecessors of his later imposing public works were much smaller and more delicate; the first attempts made for his garden were easily bent in strong winds.
And yet, they are indicative of his early intentions to work on a grand scale. InCalder created his first large bolted stabile fashioned entirely from sheet metal, which he entitled Devil Fish.
Enlarged from an earlier and smaller stabile, the work was exhibited in a Pierre Matisse Gallery show, Stabiles and Mobiles.Breaking headlines and latest news from the UK and the World.
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