Has any great artist quite so literally moved our world?
“I paint with shapes,” said Alexander Calder, who relished the spinning interplay of abstract forms that revolved like their own choreographed cosmos.
“The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof,” said Alexander Calder, who began exploring this system from a young age.
Has any artist ever quite so literally had the world on a string?
On its home page today, Google celebrates the 113th birthday of the American artist who invented the mobile sculpture — the brightly painted shapes that rotate in space like some galactic model. You can “touch” the interactive artwork to spin Google’s elegant animation — yet another case in which a “Google Doodle” is especially inspired by an artist (see: Martha Graham and John Lennon).
“From the beginning of my abstract work, even when it might not have seemed so, I felt there was no better model for me to choose than the Universe.”
Alexander Calder never stood a chance: The deed was done in boyhood: It was 113 years ago today in a Pennsylvania hamlet that Master Calder not only was born. This son of a gifted sculptor and the son of a son of a gifted sculptor was born thoroughly, irretrievably, into art. With the gift of such a birthright, Calder seemed indeed destined to move the art world.
“The sense of motion in painting and sculpture has long been considered as one of the primary elements of the composition.”
Calder came to work in sheet metal and metal rods, creating his mobiles that — rather fittingly — became iconic the world over. As artist and engineer, he was a master of kinetic choreography.
“With a mechanical drive you can control the thing like the choreography in a ballet and superimpose various movements.”
Calder seemed to find artistic inspiration in Pennsylvania and Pasadena and Paris — most everywhere he traveled and lived as a young man. He, like his art, was often on the move.
“Each element can move, shift or sway back and forth in a changing relation to each of the other elements in the universe. Thus, they reveal not only isolated moments, but a physical law or variation among the elements of life.”
Art is meant to move us, of course, but what does it do to our senses, exactly, when the art itself moves? Calder plumbed that sensory experience with his hanging shapes and struts. Has any artist ever quite so successfully sought transporting poetry in motion?
Calder would also eventually work in towering stabile sculptures that dot Montreal and Lisbon and New York — including his famed World Trade Center stabile “Bent Propeller” that was reduced to gnarled metal by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Still, Calder’s legacy continues to spin overhead, bright and unreduced and beguilingly kinetic.
Happy birthday, Alexander Calder. For today, on Google, the world rightly revolves around you.