Artist Biographical: Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder was born on July 22, 1898 in Lawnton, Swatara Township, Pennsylvania. The famous mobile-creating artist was born into a strong artistic legacy with both his father and grandfather being accomplished sculptors, and his mother being a successful portrait painter. As a child, Calder was known to experiment with wires, forming sculptures of animals, and creating small jewelry pieces for his sister, Peggy. However, despite clear artistic talents, Calder had an interest in mechanics that he sought to pursue, and went on to study engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1915.
He did not pursue a formal art education u/ ≥≥ ntil 1923 when he entered the Art Students League of New York. Here he studied under famous artists like Thomas Hart Benton, John Sloan, and Boardman Robison. During this time, Calder took a job as a sketch artist for the National Police Gazette. This position often times lead him to cover traveling circus acts like Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. This exposure inspired his early mobile works with moveable wire figures, and was a recurring theme of interest throughout his career. 1926, he embarked on his first trip to Paris where he stayed for a full year. Having full exposure to the Avant-garde art movements of the time, Calder quickly adopted the artistic principles, as well as liberal viewpoints that this European culture had at the time.
While his time in Europe, especially Paris, proved beneficial in terms of educating the young artist on experimental art principles, it was the connections he made with other famous Modernists that drove his career forward. Supporters such as Joan Miró, Jean Arp, and Marcel Duchamp, who went on to coin the term “mobile” as a description of Calder’s medium, all encouraged the artist to expand on his abstracted figures, and eventually go on to construct the large-scale sculptural forms he is famous for today. His education in mechanics proved beneficial to his career, as he was often praised for his abilities to adjust the weight of his sculptural materials in order to create physical and visual balance in the air space they occupied. Calder’s experiences and the company he chose to keep introduced, and cemented the ideals of social liberalism. However, while many artist’s at the time chose to politicize their work, Calder prided himself on creating art purely for visual enjoyment. His colorful, geometric works continued to possess an energetic and childlike manner throughout the entirety of his career.
Alexander Calder achieved a wide variety of successes throughout his career. From exhibiting with the Abstract Creation group of Paris in 1933, to the creation of the piece Mercury Fountain for the Spanish Republican Government at the International Exhibition in 1937, the name “Calder” was internationally recognizable. Later in his career, he worked on an extensive amount of public art projects in cities all over the United States, including Chicago with the giant, red Flamingo abstract sculpture located on 50 W Adams St. As a master of many mediums including gouache, pen and ink, and watercolor, Calder’s works and installations are on display in museums all over the world including Paris, Barcelona, London, and New York. Alexander Calder died on November 11, 1976.
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