The son and grandson of artists, Alexander Calder (American, born Lawnton, Pennsylvania, 1898–1976) earned a degree in mechanical engineering before deciding to become an artist. After supporting himself as an engineer and draftsman while studying at the Art Student’s League in New York (1923–26), he journeyed to Paris, where he met avant-garde artists and first created the wire sculptures described by critics as “drawings in space.”
Impressed by the primary colors and geometry of Piet Mondrian’s works, Calder was determined to put similar austere abstractions in motion. In 1930, he made his first “mobiles,” or moving (kinetic) sculptures. Soon after, he created “stabiles” (static constructed sculptures) and standing mobiles—static sculptures with moving elements on top.
By the mid-1930s, his work was more biomorphic and was influenced by the Surrealism of his friends Jean Arp and Joan Miró. From the late 1940s forward, Calder developed monumental sculptures that defined architectural spaces.
Although based in abstraction, Calder’s objects incorporate references to the natural world, interacting directly with their environments as wind or breeze moves them and light introduces shadow play. Reflecting his interest in continual change, Calder added a fourth dimension to sculpture: time.