An accomplished pen-and-ink illustrator in his early artistic career, Alexander Calder, who has been credited as inventing the mobile, took to gouache as his medium of choice for two-dimensional works. Mirroring the poetic sentiment of his stabile and mobile sculpture, Calderʼs gouache paintings encapsulate the fundamental elements of his artistic production—primary color, abstract form, and animated movement.
In 1926, Calder moved to Paris, and during his seven year stay, he enchanted fellow artists Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, and Le Courbusier. Most importantly, Calder encountered Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian—it was through these two artists that Calder became increasingly aware of the abstract, a mode of Modern art that would greatly influence his creative production. Calderʼs whimsical use of irregular forms that recall Surrealism reflects the influence of Miróʼs artistic style. The art and concepts of Mondrian had the most decisive impact on Calderʼs work—having visited Mondrianʼs studio in 1930, Calder later described the experience in his autobiography as “a shock that started things”. (1) It is in Calderʼs reduction of form and color palette to its simplest and most elementary state in which we see the power of Mondrianʼs artistic influence.
It was during the 1950ʼs when gouache became an important creative outlet for the artist. Its fluidity makes it easy to apply, and the fact that it is a water-based medium means it dries quickly—gouache allowed Calder to work fast, and the opacity of the medium left bold marks that capture the energy of his brushstroke.
Large-scale sculptures commissioned for public spaces dominate Calderʼs late career. Their vibrant colors and sweeping arches offer a counterpoint to the clean straight lines of Modern architecture, breathing life into the environments that surround them. An excellent example of this is Calderʼs stabile entitled Flamingo (1973, Federal Center Plaza, Chicago) and the blocky enormity of the Mies van der Rohe that surrounds it. Movement, shown in two-dimensions or three, as a mobile or stabile sculpture, is a staple to Calderʼs artistic mission. This, along with a primary color palette and irregular Surrealist forms, are themes that span Calderʼs early and mature works.
(1). Alexander Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures (New York: Pantheon Books, 1966), p. 156.