Alexander Calder was born July 22, 1898, in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, into a family of artists--his father was a sculptor and his mother a painter. Because his father Alexander Stirling Calder received public commissions, the family traversed the country throughout Alexander Calder's childhood. Alexander Calder was encouraged to create, and from the age of eight he always had his own workshop wherever* the family lived. For Christmas in 1909, Alexander Calder presented his parents with two of his first sculptures, a tiny dog and duck cut from a brass sheet and bent into formation. The duck is kinetic-- it rocks back and forth when tapped. Even at age eleven, his facility in handling materials was apparent.
Despite his talents, Alexander Calder did not originally set out to become an artist. He instead enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology after high school and graduated in 1919 with an engineering degree. After completing his studies, Alexander Calder worked for several years persueing various jobs, including hydraulics and automotive engineering, timekeeping in a logging camp, and working as fireman in a ship's boiler room. While serving in the latter occupation, on a ship from New York bound for San Francisco, Alexander Calder awoke on the deck to see both a brilliant sunrise and a scintillating full moon; each was visible on opposite horizons (the ship then lay off the Guatemalan coast). The experience made a lasting impression on Alexander Calder: he would refer to it throughout his life.
Alexander Calder committed to becoming an artist shortly thereafter, and in 1923 he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students' League. He also took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette, which sent him to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus scenes for two weeks in 1925. The circus became a lifelong interest of Alexander Calder's, and after moving to Paris in 1926, he created his Cirque Calder, a complex and unique body of art. The assemblage included diminutive performers, animals, and props he had observed at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Fashioned from wire, leather, cloth, and other found materials, Cirque Calder was designed to be manipulated manually by Calder. Every piece was small enough to be packed into a large trunk, enabling the artist to carry it with him and hold performances anywhere. Its first performance was held in Paris for an audience of friends and peers, and soon Alexander Calder was presenting the circus in both Paris and New York to much success. Alexander Calder's renderings of his circus often lasted about two hours and were quite elaborate. Indeed, the Cirque Calder predated performance art by forty years.
In the fall of 1931, a significant turning point in Alexander Calder's artistic career occurred when he created his first truly kinetic sculpture and gave form to an entirely new type of art. The first of these objects moved by systems of cranks and motors, and were dubbed "mobiles" by Marcel Duchamp, for in French mobile refers to both motion and motive. Alexander Calder soon abandoned the mechanical aspects of these works when he realized he could fashion mobiles that would undulate on their own with the air's currents. Jean Arp, in order to differentiate Alexander Calder's non-kinetic works from his kinetic works, named Alexander Calder's stationary objects "stabiles."
From time to time Alexander Calder took breaks from his sculptural endeavors to explore other mediums through which to express forms and ideas. These detours often led him to work in gouache, ink and other water-based materials, creating two-dimensional works on paper. For a brief period, Calder even painted with oils. Later in his career, Alexander Calder began to explore the medium of lithography. He produced several editions of wonderfully colorful lithographs that reveal his fascination with line and its interaction with color. Despite how little experience Calder had with the medium, its a wonder how his images achieve the same playfulness and intelligence of his more well known scultural works.
The forties and fifties were a remarkably productive period for Alexander Calder. While visiting Alexander Calder's studio about this time, Marcel Duchamp was intrigued by these small works. Inspired by the idea that the works could be easily dismantled, mailed to Europe, and re-assembled for an exhibition, he planned a Alexander Calder show at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris. Galerie Maeght in Paris also held a Calder show in 1950, and subsequently became Alexander Calder's exclusive Parisian dealer. His association with Galerie Maeght lasted twenty-six years, until his death in 1976.