Influences and Process – Alexander Calder

26 Jan
by L. Nichols

I still remember clearly the day when I first encountered Calder’s Cow at the museum in Boston. Of all the things I had seen there, it struck some kind of chord with me. It was whimsical, yet simple. Plus, it was made out of wire, which is a material that I have always loved working with.

I had been making wire things for a few years already the first time I saw that. I made chainmail in high school. Started making wire jewelry which transformed into little wire dudes. I’d be lying to say that my work with wire didn’t affect how I draw. It does. Sometimes I find it easier to work with wire than to draw. I’ve come to find out over the years that I think more in 3D than in 2D and find the conversion between sometimes kind of difficult. Maybe this is because of all the time spent building with Legos as a kid? Maybe it’s because I’m trained as a mechanical engineer? Whatever the case is, my work with sculpture informs my work on paper.

One way I think about this is about shadow, the way wire forms can be seen as silhouettes. Build something in 3D and you can imagine it in 2D; it just takes a bit of getting used to.

The thickness of wire forces simplification of form. The material won’t allow certain curves. Sometimes it’s impossible to get a kink out once it’s there. The material forces you to conform to it. This feeling transfers over to how I feel about paper, how I feel while using paper. The paper/pen/pencil inform what you can make with it. You know when your nib is about to snag. You know if the paper seems to be absorbing a lot of ink. You know that certain strokes are more sure than others. There is a tangibility to drawing that should not be forgotten.

I would have to say that one of the most easily placed similarities between 2D and 3D is when it comes to contour drawings, particularly blind contour drawings. The wire forces a certain fluidity to things. This fluidity can translate to paper. I love doing blind contour drawings. I also love making figures out of wire. These things are not at all unrelated. Sometimes I imagine my pen moving in 3D while it is staying on the paper. Like imagining it traveling down and out someone’s nose, when I’m actually drawing a somewhat straight line. This is to keep correlation of distance, of velocity, without looking at the page.

Here are some of my things that resulted (and keep evolving) from my experiencing and thinking about Calder’s work. Trying not to think about specifically this one piece, but trying to UNDERSTAND how he thinks. Because, for me, it’s not about copying, it’s about learning a new way of thought, about developing the way I think. About adding in my inferences into my current thoughts. One of the things I appreciate most about Calder is his sense of humor. His wire sculptures just seem like he’s having fun. The love for your work, love for the medium, the sense of play while creating… that is what I am all about.

Calder has been such a huge influence on my work, on me. At MIT, I used to walk by this huge sculpture of his on the way to class most days. I always loved the way I felt dwarfed next to it. I loved it so much that I got married under it.

My continuous line drawings have started working their way into my comics. Most recently I finished this 24 page comic called “Unrequited Monsters” that features a lot of these type of drawings. It was a fun experiment to see how I could work them in. I’m kind of excited to see how they’ve evolved in 5 or 10 years.

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