Untitled, 1968, From the series Hypnose


Untitled, 1968, From the series Hypnose

1898 to 1976 United States

Offered by Trinity House Paintings Ltd.

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By the time that this work was completed, Calder was an artist of great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. He had been awarded the Venice Biennale Sculpture Grand Prix in 1952 and the prestigious Carnegie Prize for Sculpture at the Pittsburgh International in 1958. He had executed gouaches since the late 1920s, but began to take a more serious interest in them and to exhibit them from 1952. The Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris organised a large retrospective exhibition in 1964/65.

Calder was at his peak when this work was painted and, indeed, takes from this the confidence to present – to an anticipative art world – a large work on paper with only a monochromatic series of shapes and his signature at the centre. Nevertheless, this gouache can be seen as a continuation of the work that went before it, particularly in respect of his mobiles and wire works.

The fluidity with which Calder worked with gouache was sublime. Gouache is a thicker sort of watercolour, of which the strength of pigment can be controlled by leaving out, or adding, water. It is not easy to control. Notwithstanding this, the way that Sandy Calder (as he was known) added the paint to the brush and applied it to the paper was without any hesitation; he was absolutely self assured in the way that he moved the brush around the paper. In fact, the spontaneity with which he created his gouaches causes us to question whether he planned his gouaches in detail before setting brush to paper or whether he simply had great strength of vision and confidence to execute the work in one movement. Certainly his works were created in ‘series’, as he went through phases of being interested in particular shapes and subjects, which shows that he explored and concentrated on one route at a time. However there are no preparatory pencil drawings beneath the gouaches, which suggests that he worked free hand: joyously, but obsessively.

The continuous line of this gouache is as spontaneous as the continuous lines of the animals he made with thin wire at NYC Zoo at the beginning of his career, and it seems that (as here) he never got tired of playing with materials and line and the way that the combination of the two could create something structural. In his mobiles the floating circles are anchored by balls in space, but in this gouache the floating circles are anchored by his own name, by himself.

Beyond the love of fluidity and movement that Calder brought to his work, this piece bears specific resemblance to other works that he has completed on the subject of Jeux de l'Oie, roughly translated as ‘game of the goose’, or ‘Snakes and Ladders’ as it is known in England. This game follows a similar linear pattern of playing and works on a board similar to the ever-increasing circles shown here. At the point that he completed this gouache, Calder was concentrating on some of the most important projects of his career including: Trois disques (Man) for the 1967 exposition in Montreal; El Sol Rojo for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games; and La Grande vitesse for Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1969, the first public art work funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in the US. Perhaps this whimsical gouache reflects the extent to which he still relished the humour and fun he could generate in his work. It is possible that he saw his career in the art world as somewhat of a game in itself.

“The game Calder is playing is a finely tuned, verging on magical, game of chance. And it really is a game. And it really is play.”

(The New York Times: Art Review | Alexander Calder; October 16th 2008, by Holland Cotter)
Private Collection, Paris
Calder Gouaches: Exhibition catalogue of Brame and Lorenceau Gallery, Paris, 22 May – 4 July 2008. Reproduced in full screen, no. 21

This work is recorded in the archives of the Calder Foundation as no. A23884
Height 30.31 inch (76.99 cm)
Width 22.44 inch (57.00 cm)
Stock Code
Gouache on paper
Trinity House Paintings Ltd.

Trinity House Paintings Ltd.
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WR12 7DT

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