Vibrant and playful, Calder’s Smoke Rings
is characteristic of his distinctive artistic vocabulary. Influenced by the experimental abstraction of Mondrian and Miró, Calder explained, “the underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof…the idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities, perhaps of different colours and temperatures, and surrounded and interlarded with wisps of gaseous condition” (Alexander Calder, ‘What Abstract Art Means to Me’, Museum of Modern Art Bulletin 18
, no.3 (Spring 1951), pp.8-9). This sense of the universe, so evident in the mobiles and stabiles which dominated his artistic production of the post-war period, is essential to the success of the present work. The boldly geometric shapes are suspended in a harmonious spatiality by the clouds of primary colour that underpin the work.
In his autobiography Calder recalled being in Guatemala in the months just before he abandoned his career as a mechanical engineer to become an artist, and seeing the sun rising on one side of the sky whilst the moon remained suspended on the other; he described it as giving him a ‘lasting impression of the solar system’ (Alexander Calder, Jean Davidson, Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, New York, 1966, p.38). In Smoke Rings, sun and moon coexist and are accompanied by other more mysterious celestial bodies. Calder’s unique language of abstraction finds full play in a work that is at once uplifting and life-affirming.