Alexander Calder was an American sculptor and artist most famous for inventing ‘mobile’ kinetic sculptures. In addition to creating sculpture, Calder also created paintings, lithographs, toys, tapestry, jewellery and household objects. Born in Pennsylvania, he showed a propensity for art early on in life, and from the age of eight had his own workshop wherever the family went (they travelled frequently because his father who was a sculptor accepted many public commissions).
In 1919, Calder was awarded a degree in engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology and in 1923 after a number of engineering jobs moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students' League where he began his artistic career. He became fascinated with the circus, a theme that would reappear in his later work. In 1926, Calder moved to Paris where he established a studio. His visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930 "shocked" him into embracing abstract art. The following year, Calder produced his first moving sculpture, a breakthrough for sculpture, which was previously just a static form of art. It was the artist Marcel Duchamp who labelled Calder’s kinetic sculptures ‘mobiles’. He was also experimenting with self supporting, static, abstract sculptures, dubbed "stabiles" by Arp in 1932 to differentiate them from mobiles. Calder’s experience in engineering was of seminal importance to his sculptures. Calder said of his work:
“I make things that are fun to look at, that have no propaganda value whatsoever... When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprise”.
Calder also began drawing and painting during the 1930s. His quirky outlook on life and delight in the comic are evident in his primary-coloured compositions that immediately grab the viewer’s attention with their bold strokes and striking images. Calder enjoyed working with gouache rather than oil because of the speed with which it dried.