There is something so natural, so organic in the shape and design of a mobile. The balance and proportion, the delicate play of this original kinetic art has a certain timeless quality. That said, it’s hard to believe that this most natural of kinetic delights was first conceived by American sculpture Alexander Calder in the 1930’s. Born into a family of artists, his mother was a painter, both his grandfather and father were sculptors, Calder studied mechanical engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. After which he held several engineering jobs thereafter including working for a time on a passenger ship that sailed between New York and San Francisco, before retreating to the woods of Aberdeen, Washington where he worked as a time keeper at a logging camp. Loving the nature but dissatisfied with the work, Calder returned to New York City to pursue a career in the family vocation, art.
In 1926 Calder moved to Paris where he met fellow artist and lifelong friend Joan Miró, as well as other avant-garde artists including Marcel Duchamp and Jean Arp. His earliest creations were toys made of wood and wire. Known as Cirque Calder, his first major work won him praise from his fellow artists as well as the general public who flocked to see this miniature circus. Calder designed it to fit conveniently in a suitcase. The simple construction of Cirque Calder held the seeds for his what was to be his greatest innovation. He started by working on a kind of sculpture that would be motor driven. It was these initial works of moving leaves, birds and fish that Marcel Duchamp famously named “mobiles.” It was the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, and his good friend Miró that led him to embrace the sensibilities of abstract art, thus abandoning both the images from nature and the motor. All this, combined with his engineering background allowed him to break free from the static art of the past.
While Calder went on to create large, even monumental sculptures (the ones that don’t move are known as stabiles) as well as painting and jewelry, this prolific artist is best known for his mobiles.