Delicate Balance: Life through the Eyes of Alexander Calder


Delicate Balance: Life through the Eyes of Alexander Calder

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

 Vertical Foliage, 1941 Sheet metal, wire, and paint 53 1/2 × 66 in 135.9 × 167.6 cm Courtesy the Calder Foundation

Outside my office window a soft, yet purposeful late spring breeze blows, making forays into official wind-like territory.  As the leaves flutter and rustle in the sunshine, with the sound of neighborhood birds holding lively conversation perched atop all and sundry branches – a delicate balance of the complexities of survival and the simple joys of living – I can’t help but think about my trip last year to the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to experience the Alexander Calder exhibition.

The first thing you hear is the gentle, random clanging of metal sheets bumping into each other. The sound produces a sense of the fluid, rhythmic swaying of seaweed dancing in the ocean’s currents. It took me a while until my brain registered the sound consciously. By this time I was about halfway through the exhibit, drawn, nay, compelled from one piece to the next as if some invisible hand had taken me by the heart and the imagination to walk me through for a private tour.

Parasite, Red Disc Black Lace, Blue Feather                  Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic
Parasite, Red Disc Black Lace, Blue Feather Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic

At that moment, I happened to be viewing with wonder a series of Mr. Calder’s standing mobiles.

What fascinated me was Mr. Calder’s ability to transform solid, clunky, cold materials into a delicate dance of joy, each piece in perfect visual balance and physical balance with the others; each piece uniquely its own yet a perfect part of the whole.

It is said that what is in one’s heart finds expression in what one says, “The good, the bad, and the ugly” as I often note. Artists talk through their work, as they are often notoriously solitary, silent folk hiding their treasures until the message can stay silent no longer and finds expression in the artist’s favored medium. For Alexander Calder, his intense curiosity, child-like imagination, and simple, straightforward approach to life’s complexities (famously telling a client who wanted the piece he commissioned to be gold, “I’ll make it gold if that’s what you want, but I’m painting it black,” because that is how he envisioned the piece), all find expression in his works. One feels the joy from which his pieces emanate. Calder, himself said, About my method of work: first it’s the state of mind—Elation (joy).”

Calder with 21 feuilles blanches (1953), Paris, 1954
Calder with 21 feuilles blanches (1953), Paris, 1954

Finding joy and balance in life may seem complicated at times. Today, with the reminder of a gentle breeze and through the eyes and soul of an uncomplicated man, I have that joy, simplicity, and balance. May you find the same and keep it all the days of your life.

2015 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

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