Alexander Calder made play the major theme of his art. Over the course of more than fifty years, he worked harder than most in the pursuit of the creation of his own universe, invented a whole new genre, an art of moving sculpture known as ‘mobiles,’ and made works on an unsurpassed scale. But he was also an incredibly interesting character, a man who had a childlike view of life which translated seamlessly into his work.
Calder had sculpture in his blood. His father was also a sculptor and many of his ancestors had been stone masons. He was not that interested in becoming an artist at first however. He loved to work with his hands and went to school to become an engineer. He didn’t do well in the program and decided to become an artist after all.
When he began his career, he worked primarily in wire, sculpting portraits and images of animals that resembled abstract line drawings but in three-dimensions. He could create an entire exhibition on the spot with just wire and some pliers. He was always interested in sculptural materials uncommon or unknown to the genre – including scrap iron, found stones, broken glass, even mercury. He was capable of building sculptures on almost any scale from gargantuan behemoths to tiny fragile works.
Early on, during the 1920s, Calder began making extended trips to Paris. Here he became a part of the booming art scene. At this time, he built a fully-functional miniature circus out of wire and refuse. He performed the circus for art-world friends who came to see it on a regular basis. The circus highlighted his lifelong fascination with toys and childlike objects and was an early example of a moving sculpture.