Achieving an exquisite balance between weight and counterweight, form and structure, element and air, Roxbury Front exemplifies the captivating formal beauty that is utterly unique to Calder's canon of suspended forms. Hailed as one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century, Calder’s output was the product of his artistic heritage and inclination. Born into a family of sculptors, Calder enrolled in the Art Students League in New York in 1923 to study painting; just three years later, his inherent creative drive and flair for the arts impelled him to move to Paris, where he would attract the attention of contemporaries such as Joan Miró, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Piet Mondrian. Indeed, the impetus behind Calder’s move to airborne abstraction occurred in a now legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, where the sight of rectangles of colored paper, arranged on the wall, for compositional experimentation, inspired Calder to think of the kinetic possibilities of art. In an interview in 1932, Calder revealed his excitement at the extraordinary new creative world he was discovering: “Why must art be static?... You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion.” (Alexander Calder quoted in Howard Greenfield, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York, 2003, p. 67)
In Roxbury Front, Calder pays subtle homage to the singular importance of another place, which played an equally formative role in the development of his artistic practice; for while the inspiration for his mobiles began in Paris, it was in Roxbury, Connecticut, that Calder’s mobiles truly took flight. Calder and his wife, Louisa, purchased a dilapidated farmhouse in Roxbury in 1933, in an area of Connecticut that would become something of a mecca for the avant-garde of the day. The Calders could count as neighbors the poet Hart Crane, critic Robert Coates, and writer Malcolm Cowley, among others, many of whom gathered at the Calder’s Roxbury home in later years for lengthy dinner salons and discussions. In the late 1930s, Calder constructed his studio, a vast glass-and-cinderblock atrium, on the foundations of an abandoned barn east of the farmhouse. It was there, as he began to produce his mobiles in earnest, that Calder would craft his most poetic constellations. In contrast with his earlier work, which had been essentially urban in inspiration: “In Connecticut, Calder experienced nature more directly. He was affected by the leafing out of trees in spring, the air currents moving the clouds, the dance of snowflakes in the midst of a storm, the actuality of bodies, including the body of the artist himself, moving through space and time." (Jed Perl, Calder: The Conquest of Time, The Early Years, 1898 – 1940, New York, 2017, p. 447) Indeed, it was during their first year in Roxbury that Calder began to produce his iconic standing mobiles, creating large sculptures with mobile elements meant to stand out of doors that could be placed around the Calders' sprawling eighteen acre property. Writing at the time, the artist described: “I have made a number of things for the open air – all of them react to the wind, and are like sailing vessels in that they react best to one kind of breeze.” (The artist quoted in Ibid, p. 448) Scholar Jed Perl, Calder’s biographer, reflects: “The Roxbury studio became the center of Calder’s world…in some sense, it would be the Roxbury studio that remained forever the essential Calder studio.” He concludes, “It was the place where his winged vision really took flight—a light-filled double-square space deep in the hills of Yankee Connecticut.” (Ibid., p. 563) A fitting homage to the studio which so inspired him, Roxbury Front attests not only to the brilliance of one of twentieth-century art’s most iconic sculptors, but also to the confidence, assurance, and virtuosic inspiration of an artist utterly at home in his own environs.
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