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Autobiographical Mobile: My painting diary – Day 6: The Calder Mobile

The main pretext of my new autobiographical paintings is the mobile which sits at its centre. Stranded in the middle of my coved Mallorcan beach, a large mobile sits surreally on 3 metal legs, and from its iron frame will hang the symbols which, on my autobiographical mobile, represent what significant events have both enhanced and damaged my life, all having a changing impact, whether for better or for worse. In this way, my mobile seeks to balance out the good with the bad, demonstrating the idea of equilibrium in life, the silver lining to every cloud, taking the rough with the smooth, while in undertaking the balancing act, the mobile resembles a scales of justice. Which is no coincidence – I am a qualified lawyer after all.

The Calder room at Washington DC National Gallery

My mobile takes inspiration from one of my all time favourite artist/ sculptors: Alexander Calder. American born Calder (July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976) was best known as the originator of the mobile. His works were graceful, kinetic structures, delicately balanced or suspended, their components moving in response to the environment in which they were situated (or occasionally by motor). The word “mobile” is said to have originated from Duchamp who, as a friend to Calder during the 20s in Paris, named Calder’s sculptures such to reflect their continuous movement and mobility. In 1929 Calder held his first show of wire sculptures and never looked back. His works are now regarded as being amongst the earliest manifestations of an art that consciously departed from the traditional notion of the art work as a static object and integrated the ideas of motion and change as aesthetic factors. His mobiles contained elements of largely abstract, monochrome shapes and plain colours, creating beauty in shape rather than detail. As his popularity grew, so did his mobiles become greater, and more and more appeared in public places all over the world, from JFK Airport (1957) to UNESCO in Paris (1958) and the Olympic Stadium for the Mexico games (1968). Needless to say, they are now a staple of early 20th century art history.

I first imported the notion of the mobile into my paintings earlier this year when I set about painting the city of Salamanca following my visit there in the Spring. There were so many features of the city which I wanted to represent, but to simply paint them without purpose or context would have been, to my mind, an artificial exercise. I therefore decided to paint the features of the city suspended from mobiles which in turn metamorphosed out of the iron crosses atop both the Cathedral and the University. In this way I was able to paint the various images of the city upon two competing mobiles, representing the age-long conflict between the traditionalist Church and the Enlightenment.

Salamanca (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas, 105 cm x 90 cm)

This painting in turn inspired my current work which will centralise the idea of the mobile yet further, promoting it as a balancer of my life’s story so far. It is perhaps ironic that the mobile, beautiful by reason of its three dimensional form and capacity to move is, in my paintings, fixed in time. Yet the beauty of this slender armature loses none of its grace by reason of its immobility.

I painted the base of the mobile first, and then the arms. It was so difficult to paint those black lines straight. My hand was shaking all over the place. Oh, I also painted the little rocky cliffs in the background too.

Up next will be the various items hanging from the mobile. I move onto them this week.

In the meantime, here is a gallery of some of my favourite Calder mobiles. Until next time…

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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