Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Robert B. Howard

"Multiple Compass" - Robert B. Howard                        Photo by Ian Reeves
I really like this mobile by Robert Boardman Howard (1896 - 1983).  This article describes the propeller-like sculpture as being black, with dark blue blotches painted on it, suggesting the markings on military aircraft.

Here is another one of his sculptures at the San Francisco MOMA:

This sculpture is entitled "Ram".  The photo does not convey the mammoth size of this sculpture, which is listed in the SFMOMA website as being 117 inches (nearly 10 feet) tall!  It appears that the three-legged geometric shape is free to rotate on the bulbous black base.

Here is another sculpture in wood, also at the SFMOMA, which I like the best of the three.  It is called "Semaphore".

photo by Marsi - via Flickr

Here is a picture that I found of a party in his studio.  You can see some interesting mobiles and stabiles.  Hey, that guy on drums looks like Bobby Kennedy!

I've tried to find more information about this artist via the Internet without much success.  Wikipedia mentions his name as being one of the Coit Tower muralists from the California School of Fine Arts.  Since there is also a painting in the holdings at the SFMOMA I suspect this is the same artist.  I also found this memorial on the Internet but it appears to be about another artist with the same name - his birth/death dates do not match the dates listed in SFMOMA and there is no mention of Coit Tower or any involvement with San Francisco.

Do you know anything about Robert B. Howard?   Leave a comment if you do!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Metropolis II, by Chris Burdon

This kinetic sculpture by Chris Burdon is amazing. 
 I love the concept, and it is obvious that no expense has been spared in producing it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Sprinzelfish" hanging mobile

"Sprinzelfish" - hanging mobile by Unigami

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello Mobile

"Hello" - hanging mobile by Unigami

It only took a few minutes to make this. It's fun to watch the various letter combinations 
that appear as it moves around...I may experiment with this a bit more...

Alexander Calder papers at the Smithsonian

In 1963, Alexander Calder donated a collection of photographs, news-clippings, sketches, correspondence, and other personal documents including a passport and address book to the Smithsonian Institution. The stack of papers measured 2.5 feet tall and was microfilmed shortly after receipt.

This collection has been digitized, and is available for viewing online at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Alexander Calder papers: 1926 - 1967

I spent well over an hour browsing this collection and I highly recommend that you check it out if you are a Calder fan. I especially enjoyed the family photographs and some of the news-clippings that were reviews of various exhibits from early in Calder's career. Many of these are in French...I wish I could read them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010



I’m frustrated…I think this would be a beautiful mobile, but I can’t figure out how to do the wiring without things becoming cumbersome.  Guess I’ll file this one away for now and hopefully come back to it later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a name?

"Spacely" - hanging mobile by Unigami
I'd like to introduce you to "Spacely", my latest mobile design.  My original plan was to name it "Proteus", a sea-god from Greek mythology (and a cool submarine in the movie Fantastic Voyage), but when I hung it up for the first time after everything was painted I thought it looked like something out of The Jetsons and "Spacely" immediately popped into my mind. I'll reserve "Proteus" for something later on.

It's fun to name a mobile. Most of the time, I let the mobile name itself. As in this case, it usually comes to me as I am making it. Each mobile seems to have its own personality and it's usually pretty easy to find a name that conjures up the feeling that I get from it.  Here are a few good examples:

Ten Crows

Sometimes the name of the mobile is a reference to something that inspired it, for example the design of my "Wilco" mobile appeared in my mind, fully formed, as I was listening to a Wilco album.  

Every now and then I will get stumped.  I remember one occasion when I finished a mobile and had no name for it, so I asked my daughter Bridget for help.  She came up with a great name..."Quibble"!

Alexander Calder titled most of his sculptures, and I've read that he followed the same method of letting the name reveal itself to him.  Most of his titles were descriptive, such as; "Big Red", "One White, Four Blacks", "Thirty-two Disks", "Wooden Bottle with Hairs", "Crinkly", and "The Y".  Some appear nonsensical with no apparent meaning (to me at least) such as; "Myxomatose", "Teodelapio", and "Obus". Of course, Calder was known for his playful sense of humor and one can find that in some of his titles as well...some of my favorites are; "The Lace on the Edge of Your Panties", "Funghi Neri", "Little Tinkle", and "Bayonets Menacing a Flower". 

I supposed my all-time favorite Calder title would have to be "Sword Plant" - a great name and a perfect description for one of his best stabiles.

Most artists give careful thought to the title they chose for a particular piece.  The next time you are admiring a work of art, take a few moments and think about the title. You may find that it sheds new light on the piece and makes you think about it in a completely new way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Calder Karma

I went to Chicago this past weekend to see the special exhibit "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy".  With over 60 sculptures by Calder on display, plus inspired works by seven contemporary artists, this was a "must see" for me and  I wasn't disappointed!

There were so many iconic pieces there; "Big Red", "Finny Fish", "Portrait of the Artist", "Flying Fish", "Little Face", "Performing Seal", among so many others - it was simply amazing to see them with my own eyes, inches away from me, and in motion.  It was if one of my Calder books had come to life.

I have to give credit to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art for putting on such a wonderful show.  I especially appreciated the manner in which the mobiles were hung at eye level, which according to the audio tour, was how Calder intended them to be viewed.  For me, it was a religious experience to stand face to face with  these beautiful sculptures and watch the quiet dignity of their movement, influenced by the air currents created by the wanderings of the museum patrons. It also allowed me to closely inspect the methods that Calder used to construct his mobiles.

I noticed something very important about how Calder worked.

As I moved from piece to piece, I became aware of the differences between Calder's skill and the way I make mobiles.  For me, the artistic and creative process primarily lies in the initial concept for a mobile, which I usually develop in a sketch.  After that, I switch into "engineer mode" and do my best to create the sculpture as accurately as possible to reflect this idea using the cutting, joining, and painting methods that I have developed over the years.  I spend a lot of time making sure that things are "just so" - ensuring that the wires are smoothly bent, connections are uniform, elements are hanging perfectly vertical (or horizontal), and the paint is as nice as it can be. It's time consuming.  If necessary, I'll remove and replace a section of the mobile to correct a problem.

Calder, on the other hand, did not let his engineering talents become a hindrance to the creative process at any point. It is clearly obvious that for him, the process of constructing a complex hanging mobile was no different than making a quick pen and ink sketch.  There is a free flowing magical quality to the way that he bent the wire, and his willingness to be unencumbered by convention can be seen in a multiplicity of ways; such as by the way he used variations in joining methods from piece to piece (or even within a single piece), how he would sometimes rivet a chunk of metal to a petal to make it heavier when necessary, how he would extend the length of a wire arm by simply splicing another piece onto it with a clever interlocking bend, and how he wasn't afraid to leave a ragged edge here or there.

The spontaneity of the construction method jumps out at you when you see these sculptures up close, and it becomes apparent how it augments the overall impression of an organic spontaneous playfulness of the mobile's movement. I think Calder's genius was the way he was able to put so much action into his sculptures. I can't think of any other sculptor that has been able to do this so well.

Most people are familiar with the concept of "karma", but many incorrectly have the impression that there is "good karma" and "bad karma" - merit badges in some law of cosmic justice that is basically "what goes around, comes around".  In fact, karma simply means "action" and though it powers the cycle of cause and effect it has no good or bad qualities within itself.  You also may not know that there is a form of yoga known as "karma yoga".  Since yoga means "union", the literal translation of karma yoga is "the path of union through action". In other words, it is not "the ends justify the means", but rather "the means are the ends".  For an artist, this would be practiced by letting go of one's tendency to be attached to the idea of the finished result and instead be at one with each moment of the creative process.

I think Calder's art clearly shows his impressive and perhaps unequaled ability to achieve this kind of  unencumbered creativity - a karmic yoga, in his work - a feat difficult for any artist but especially so I think, for a sculptor. Look closely, and you'll see that every bend, crimp, loop, and petal of a Calder mobile is a unique work of art within itself.

Looking at the beautiful mobiles and stabiles at the MoCA, I couldn't help but think, if you could somehow plant a chunk of steel into the ground and make it grow, it would grow into a Calder.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Moving the Universe?

Calder's "The Universe" - photo by Jough Dempsey via Flickr
An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that Sears, Roebuck & Co., original owner of the Sears Tower in Chicago, wants to buy back the motorized Alexander Calder sculpture "The Universe", which was commissioned specifically for the tower lobby and has been on display since 1974.

Sears sold the tower in 1994 and it was renamed "Willis Tower" in 2009. The current owner, an investment firm named "223 South Wacker LLC" is disputing Sears' claim that the 1994 terms of sale, which included a "buy-back" agreement that allows Sears to purchase the sculpture at half of its appraised price, is still valid. An attorney for the investment firm
has filed a law-suit to block the purchase and reports that Sears intends to remove the sculpture from the tower . Sears has declined to comment on any plans to relocate the sculpture.

I have a feeling that if Sears is successful, they will indeed move "The Universe" out of the tower; inflicting yet another act of vandalism against what is perhaps Chicago's most iconic building. Iconic buildings should not be renamed, and works of art that are site-specific, such as "The Universe", should not be relocated. 

I also have a feeling that the people of Chicago, proud of their city's art and architectural heritage, and still angry over the renaming of the tower, are not going to stand by and let this happen without a fight!,0,184087.story

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Innovators vs. Imitators

Hanging mobile artists face a fundamental question: will they be creating mobiles that are just essentially derivations of previous work done by Alexander Calder, or will they try to create something unique and strive to push the medium in a new direction? 

Once an artist has learned the process and techniques necessary for creating a hanging mobile, it really is a fairly simple matter to reproduce a Calder-style piece by using variations of his distinctive shapes and painting them in solid primary colors.  It's easy, it's fun, and clients love it...after all, for most of them, the image of a hanging mobile is defined by the work they have seen by Alexander Calder.

Some of my most popular designs are Calder-style mobiles and stabiles:

"Satori" hanging mobile by Unigami

"Aquilla" hanging mobile by Unigami

"La Mer Digne" hanging mobile by Unigami

If you make a quick search on the Internet you will find many, in fact most, hanging mobile artists are producing mobiles in the Calder tradition.

"Modernist" - Julie Frith
"Big Red" - Dave Vande Vusse
"Jet Set" by Debra Ann
Ebay mobile by unknown artist

As you can see, some of these are very creative and beautiful, and others are less successful.

There is a tipping point I think, when when this type of work becomes so derivative that (at best) it may be more accurately described as a "craft" rather than fine art.  That is not what I want to do. I strive to create unique designs that capture the spirit of Calder, but yet reflect a particular style that I have been developing over the years. I think that my mobiles "Angler", "Questron", and "Orbit" among others, represent the style that I am trying to acheive; something clean, dynamic, and modern looking.  I don't think these look anything like Calder mobiles, but they are close cousins...they are beautiful, they are unique, but they probably are not going to get me a review in American Artist.

"Angler" - hanging mobile by Unigami
"Questron" hanging mobile by Unigami

"Orbit" hanging mobile by Unigami

A few artists have succesfully advanced this form of kinetic sculpture in bold new directions, most notably George Rickey, who began making mobiles very similar to the work of Alexander Calder but eventually branched off into large outdoor geometric inspired sculptures:

"Three Squares Gyratory" - George Rickey

Tim Prentice is one of my favorite artists.  He notes in his artist's statement that he intends to "concentrate on the movement of the piece rather than the object".  He has devised some interesting methods to create walls and ribbons of elements that undulate in the breeze.  I really love his "Zinger" mobile:

Ned Kahn is GOD.  You really have to visit his website and watch the videos to really appreacite how amazing his work is. Using the power of physical science, he has created kinetic sculptures that explore the effects of movement in wind, water, sand, fog, fire, and light.  

"Wind Portal" - Ned Kahn

These are just a few examples of some amazing work by some amazing artists.  I am always inspired and excited when I discover someone working in a new direction.  Leave a comment below and let me know who you like!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"La Grande Vitesse" photo by rdmegr

I found some wonderful photos of Alexander Calder's "La Grande Vitesse" on rdmegr's Flickrstream.  This one is my favorite, in fact it's one of my all time favorite photos of a Calder sculpture:

Visit rdmegr's Calder flickrstream here to see more photos, and be sure to check out more of his wonderful photographs which include art around Grand Rapids, and the Artprize competition:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hans Kooi

Hans Kooi is a Dutch artist who creates kinetic sculptures using wood, stone and magnetism. I really love the minimalist, zen-like, quality of his sculptures.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Animated Typefaces - coming soon to your computer?

"It’s what you’d get if Alexander Calder were a typographically minded computer nerd"

courtesy of Co. Design

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Opening: A great Calder exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art

This looks like a fabulous exhibit of many, MANY Calder pieces and other interesting works!
At the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art between June 26th and October 17th, 2010.
I think I'll be taking a road trip to see this one!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Perihelion - Hanging Mobile

"Perihelion" - original hanging mobile by Unigami

22 inches tall x 38 inches wide
Sheet Metal and stainless steel

visit for more information about my hanging mobiles and stabiles.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Automata by Gina Kamentsky

The tradition of building automata to demonstrate scientific principals dates back as far a Hero's contraptions in ancient Greece.  Automata has also been used in conjunction with religious icons, as well as for performing practical work, and simply for fun as toys and novelties.

Many artists have experimented with Automata and Kinetic Sculpture.  The best are able to integrate knowledge of basic engineering mechanisms with a keen sense of playfulness and whimsical design to create novel  contraptions that are a delight to watch.

Gina Kamenstky's works are among the best that I have seen.  Check out her website for an amazing array of devices and be sure to watch the videos!

Gina Kamentsky's Mechanical Confections

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calder's BMW art car

I love this picture of Calder, in a typical pose, with the custom BMW that he painted for his friend Herve Poulain. It was the first of its kind, and started a tradition of  custom BMW's painted by artists such as Warhol, Stella, Lichtenstein, Hockney, and continues to this day with the most recent version by artist Jeff Koons.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Photographer Milton Gendel's best shot

He drew a picture of me on my shoes' … Alexander Calder's portrait on Milton Gendel's soles
From The Guardian:

In 1968, my old friend from the US art scene, Alexander Calder, visited me in Rome. I had gone there in the 1950s, when my flat in New York was torn down and my first wife left me.
As an artist, Calder was first-rate, which the world has recognised. But he was also great company: witty and playful, with a brilliant mind. One evening, we went out for dinner. I had been whitewashing my studio and had walked in the paint. When I crossed my legs, Calder took out a pencil, on impulse, and drew my portrait on one of the splattered soles, and my profile on the other. He signed each: "AC".
At the end of the meal, as we walked into the street, I decided to take them off. Calder, who was built like a bear, came after me shouting: "Put your shoes back on – it's the winter, you'll catch a cold. I'll give you another drawing!" But I didn't have far to go. I got the shoes framed eventually. They now sit on my piano and are among my most treasured possessions.
The photograph was taken decades later. It was used as the cover of a catalogue for a show I gave in the museum of Spoleto in 2006. They suggested the shoes be used for the cover, but I wanted to make the image more personal, so I photographed myself reflected in the frame's glass. As you can see, it looks as if I am behind the shoes, falling feet-first. It was a piece of luck, like so much in photography.
I would describe it as a triple mug shot, and one of the most evocative photos I have taken, capturing place, person and situation. It is biographical, too: it shows me holding a camera, with the results of what I can do with a camera. As I was taking it, I was wondering if it would work. I took it in digital, looked at it, realised it was right, and kept it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Did Alexander Calder Have a Mobile Home?

Here's a cute folk song by David Damrose, lyrics are below, or you can listen to it here:

You can also download it for free here:

Did Alexander Calder Have a Mobile Home ?

Once when I was in the city
The concierge in the Hotel told me
That on Thursday Nights the Art Museum was free.

So I Pulled on my boots and put on my hat
Had the fellow call me a Taxi
and went down there to see what I could see.

Metal and wires hanging from the ceiling
Various shapes spinning and reeling
And a woman in a Suit explaining what it meant.

When it came time for the Q&A;Session
she asked if there were any questions
I raised my hand and said something like this :

Did Alexander Calder have a mobile home
Was he mentally stabile, did he like to roam
Was he anti-social, did he hang around ?

Could he keep a steady job or was he fired
Was he kind of mellow, was he really wired
Did Alexander Calder have a mobile Home ?

Well, all those city folks gave me a look
Like I never even thought of reading a book
Especially some bald guy wearing a turtleneck Sweater

He walked right up, got in my face
I said to him" Now looky here Ace,
You'll back off if you know what's good for you ".

Near a pointillist painting he poked me in the eye
I never even bothered to ask him why
After that unfriendly Gesture the fight was on.

We tumbled into a Pablo Picasso
His nose on my ear my eye on his elbow
He bounced off a Sunflower and bit off a piece of my ear

We rolled into the surrealism gallery
Fishy lightbulb mustache lingerie
About that time the police had arrived

Did Alexander Calder Have a mobile home
Was he mentally Stabile did he like to roam
Was he anti-social, Did he hang around ?

Could he keep a steady job or was he fired
Was he kind of mellow, was he really wired.
Did Alexander Calder Have a Mobile Home?

Well if you're ever in the city
and visit the museum on a Thursday
It's best to keep your opinions to yourself

Those Art Types take themselves seriously
If you speak you'll probably wind up like me
And spend your weekend sitting in a cell

Did Alexander Calder have a mobile home
Was he mentally stabile, did he like to roam
Was he anti-social, Did he hang around ?

Could he keep a steady job or was he fired
Was he kind of mellow, was he really wired
Did Alexander Calder Have
a mobile home ?

Words/music Copyright 2010 David Damroze (ASCAP)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Calder Game

Blue Balliett and Brett Helquist have written a series of children's books that offer up an engaging dose of art history cleverly wrapped up in a mystery / adventure story of three 7th grade sleuths; Calder, Petra, and Tommy. 

The first two books were about Vermeer "Chasing Vermeer (2004)" and Frank Lloyd Wright The Wright 3 (2006). The third installment entitled "The Calder Game" focuses on Alexander Calder. 

I think we could have seen that one coming.

The gist of this story is that the three friends visit a Calder exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (I think I may have seen them there), and then later Calder (the boy, not the artist) and his father travel to a remote area in England that happens to have an anonymously donated Calder stabile on display - The Minotaur.

The mystery begins when both boy and sculpture dissapear on the same night.

I think this is a wonderful way to expose young readers to art.  The reviews on Amazon are generally pretty good for these books as they are known for captivating writing, interesting puzzles (there is a puzzle in this book that is based on the elements of a mobile!), and good characterization.  I did see a few complaints about the plot line on this one though....

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll read The Calder Game because I can pretty much guess the ending and the solution to the mystery of the missing boy and sculpture.

My bet is that a secret agent from the Calder Foundation snatches them both up and ships them off to New York City where they are hidden deep under West 25th Street in a dark, dank, storage room, never to be seen again.  

The Calder Game