New York, Vintage20/Tina Kim Gallery, Calder - Nakashima, May - June 2008
New York, Helly Nahmad Gallery, Alexander Calder: The Painter, November - December 2011, p. 29, illustrated in colour
Alexander Calder cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Perls Galleries, Calder-Miró, 1961, n.p.
Executed in 1949, this medley of vibrant circular shapes on a muted grey background is a rare gem within Alexander Calder’s acclaimed oeuvre. Despite being best known for his revolutionary mobiles and monumental stabiles, Calder was hugely prolific across a number of mediums. While he continuously produced gouache paintings on paper throughout his long career, oils on canvas of this quality are undeniably scarce.
Abandoning a career as a mechanical engineer, Calder studied under George Luks and John Sloan from 1923 to 1925 at the Art Students League, where his formative art education was rooted in painting and figurative abstraction. Although his artistic legacy is best understood through kinetic sculpture, painting served as an anchor that operated in parallel to the sculptural works in establishing Calder’s core principles of line in space. In 1931, Calder joined the Abstract Creation Group and participated in group exhibitions. A shift towards the abstract, the use of geometric forms and ubiquitous presence of bold colours would become fundamental to his canvases, gouaches, and sculpture for the duration of his career.
These primary elements are perfectly articulated in the present work. Reduced to a handful of thin black lines, a ball of wool and two knitting needles (as alluded to in the work’s title, given after the fact of creation) are discernible in the centre of the composition and are surrounded by an array of abstract forms in Calder’s preferred palette of bold primary colours. The flat circular shapes in the lower half of the composition draw distinct parallels to the metal discs of the artist’s mobiles. These suspended geometric elements float across the picture plane with the same gliding grace as Calder’s three dimensional sculptures.
Not only does Knitting reflect Calder’s aesthetic development, it also points to his close relationship and affinity with Spanish Surrealist artist Joan Miró, who he had befriended during his time in Paris during the late 1920s. The two became life long friends and their works developed along parallel, yet resonant trajectories. Speaking of his friend, Calder recalled: “I met Miró in Dec. ’29 when I called on him in his tin-arched studio in Montmartre… We became very good friends and attended many things together, including a gymnasium… I came to love his painting, his color, his personages, and we exchanged works… Gymnasium is a thing of the past, but Miró + I go on”(Alexander Calder cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Perls Galleries, Calder-Miró, 1961, n.p.). Ultimately, Miró helped steer Calder away from traditional modes of representation and towards a language of surrealist abstraction.
Knitting stands as a rare and idiosyncratic paradigm of Calder’s work in oil on canvas. Illuminating his artistic transition and continuous oscillation between figuration and abstraction, the present work represents a remarkable pendent to the simultaneous development of his iconic mobiles.
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