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Posts tagged ‘Alexander Calder’

Art in London (Part 1): Calder’s Mobiles

London is alive with some truly exciting artist retrospectives at the moment, each of them tending to focus on a particular aspect of their creative output. In the National Gallery, the portraiture of Goya is the focus of a major show, and likewise in the National Portrait Gallery where Giacometti and his drawings are the stars. Meanwhile, over the river in Tate Modern, a retrospective of Alexander Calder focuses on the works which surely made him famous…sculptures which dance, perform and are always on the move: his mobiles. 

It’s strange to imagine a world where the mobile, that innocuous moving collection of animals and stars hanging above every respectable baby cot, did not exist. But it was Calder who actually invented this type of sculpture, long before it ever became a favourite of the child’s bedroom, and in doing so Calder showed himself to be one of the first ever proponents of performance art, something which is now such a staple of contemporary art spaces across the world.


Triple Gong, 1948 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)


Untitled, 1963


Gamma, 1947 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

In creating the mobile, Calder was looking for a work which moved, and evolved. At first his moving sculptures were controlled, either in the form of puppets which would perform in his own Calder Circus Shows (the likes of which were visited in Paris by some of the biggest names of the 20th century art world), or those carefully choreographed by a series of connected motors and pulleys. But the true mobile, the freely moving construction based on a series of shapes, wires and strings, was created in response to Calder’s desire to free abstraction, and for the bold shapes and colours which he had seen in the likes of Mondrian’s tightly structured geometric works to move about without constraint.

And so were born the sculptures for which Calder became synonymous, and which have cropped up in some of the most culturally enriched open public spaces in the world, including here in Palma de Mallorca, and of course that sensational mobile left by Calder himself by the poolside at the Colombe d’Or Hotel in St. Paul de Vence.

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For me, ever so fascinated by the mobiles of Calder, this was truly an exquisite show. I wandered between the mobiles entranced by the poetry in their movements; by the constant slow flow and turns of the wire arms whose many delicate branches create an ever changing and unpredictable dance. And beyond the mobiles, the secondary most beautiful vision were the shadows created on the walls, themselves moving, creating the most beautiful abstract art, albeit free and transitory as Calder would have wished.

It’s a unique opportunity to see so many of Calder’s greatest works in one place, and to understand the revolutionary journey, from canvas to moving mobiles, which prompted him to create these most oscillatory of sculptures.


Vertical Foliage 1941(© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

Mobile 4


Antennae with Red and Blue Dots, 1953 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

Alexander Calder, Performing Sculpture is on at Tate Modern, London, until 3 April 2016.

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part II: Calder’s Pool

On Wednesday I told you all about the earthly paradise that is La Colombe d’Or, and yesterday I shared my first artwork inspired by this epicentre of the arts. And yet I would do La Colombe an injustice if I stopped there. For combine my relentless enthusiasm for all things Mediterranean, with my love of art, and my complete obsession with the effect of light on water, and ripples, and you will be unsurprised that during our stay at that little Provençal Inn, I fell head over heels in love with the swimming pool which languishes at the centre of the hotel.

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Surrounded on three sides by the old stone residences which make up the charming accommodation of La Colombe, and on the other with a spectacular view of the rolling hills around St-Paul de Vence, the swimming pool benefits from lush planting, cypress trees clipped into perfectly curvaceous almost anthropomorphic forms, ancient ceramic pots overflowing with palms and flowers, and quaint wooden loungers each fitted with a distinctive apricot cushion for the ultimate in comfort.

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But above all of the charms of this magical pool is the original art which surrounds it. On the one side, a dark contemplative piece by contemporary geometric artist Sean Scully sounds all wrong on paper, but the dark colours perfectly complement the zing of orange of the sun loungers lined up against it. Opposite, the bird mosaic by Georges Braque fits perfectly harmoniously with the lush vegetation surrounding it, peeking out from behind the cypress trees as though wary of the tourists taking their places alongside the pool. And best of all – that stunning Alexander Calder mobile, whose fast metal arms swing slowly and silently in the still Riviera air, and whose base stands majestically on the water’s edge.
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All combined like the colours mixed on an artist’s palette in ripples moving across the delicate green waters whose depths were punctuated with light manifested in every shade of cerulean blue and forest green. I became fascinated, dazzled by the interplay of colour on the water, and took so many photos that a post dedicated to this phenomenon of La Colombe d’Or was a must.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

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.

Salamanca: My Painting – Homage to a sandstone city in oil on canvas

It’s been two months since I returned from the golden glowing sandstone Spanish city of Salamanca. There was so much to inspire me when I walked those elegant historical streets. When I gazed, mesmerised through my hotel window onto the stunning baroque Cathedral, the sun setting upon its orange stonework, and cypress trees gently waving from side to side in the evening breeze before it, a painting came to my mind. I rushed to make a quick sketch which I still have on the back of a reservation print out for the restaurant we were dining at that night. My painting of Salamanca was to contain what to my mind was the essence of the city – a kaleidoscope of dappled, marbled oranges and golds in a landscape uniquely built from the local Villamayor sandstone, a city bursting with historical artefacts flowing from the dual powerhouses of church and university. It is a city which is elegant in its antiquity, and yet bursting with fresh new life from its greenery, its strong local life, the pull of tourism and the thriving university population which resides there. This was my inspiration and shortly after returning from Spain I set to work on a large 105 cm x 90 cm canvas. I finally finished  the work over the long Jubilee Weekend. And here, exclusively, is the result, as I present my first (non-Norm) painting of 2012…

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

Dominating the centre of the canvas is a silhouetted skyline of the city, recognisable by the Cathedral spires and the intricate turrets, domes and baroque roofing of the nearby University. Rather than paint the detail of the buildings, I constructed the skyline out of a wall of villamayor sandstone bricks, in the same way that each building of the city is constructed. Those individual bricks act as a window onto different features of the city. On one brick you see the conch shells of the famous Casa de las Conchas, while on others, parts of the hand painted street letterings are featured, infamous for their historical use of pigs blood and olive oil.

In the meantime, out of the Cathedral and the university, the ironwork crosses become large mobile-like structures, inspired by the great maker of mobile art, Alexander Calder. On these mobiles hang various symbols of the city. The astronaut and the ice cream which are usually imbedded in the intricate plateresque facades of the Cathedral and the University’s famous sandstone frog are all featured, as well as the skull upon which the frog sits (my painted skull is inspired by the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebrations for which houses and graves are adorned with beautifully decorated hand painted skulls like this one). Represented too is the tradition of learning at the University, embodied in the Orrery (one of which I bought while in Salamanca as a souvenir of the city) as well as the famous Plaza Mayor, represented by the infamous bust of Fascist leader Franco which can be found amongst the busts of Spanish rulers around the square, and the inclusion of which causes such controversy that it is regularly vandalised. My Franco too has been vandalised, but is that paint on his face or blood on his hands? Finally the painting is generously sprinkled with various groups of cypress trees, tidily placed in terracotta pots at various spots across the canvas as well as a curtain of clouds sweeping across a clear green sky. Ooh and look out for the little stork’s nest embedded amongst the spires of the cathedral – the storks are a customary feature of the city and do not appear to cause the residents any hassle – in fact some churches have baskets placed on top of their spires to aid the storks in building a safe and secure nest!

So there it is, and above, so you don’t miss the details, are more photos showing the various individual aspects of the painting. I hope you like the painting and, more importantly, let me know what you think! I’ve already started a new work, so look out for that over the coming months.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work 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.