Letters From Alexander Calder To Ellsworth Kelly03 Mar 2022
Do friendships and close relationships between artists affect the formation of mutual artistic expressions and aesthetic viewpoints?
Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly are two prominent abstract modernists that started their artistic studies and training in Paris (in the late 1920s and late 1940s respectively). Calder and Kelly eventually met in Paris and a permanent interest and friendship formed between them despite 25 years of the age difference.
They wrote to each other about the creative processes of their own or other artists contemporaneous with them; several of these letters have remained. One of the interesting points in these letters is Calder's support for Kelly, the younger painter, and his commitment to introducing him to New York's art world. This is apparent in this sentence of one of the letters, the picture of which is shown below: "Here is a check to relieve your concerns about the rent for the moment. It's a gift." At the time, Kelly was living in lower Manhattan in a building located at 109 Broad Street. In addition, Calder mentioned in the letter that he had written to three of the managers of New York's museums to encourage them to visit Kelly's studio. He finished the letter with his nickname, Sandy. The letter's full text follows:
December 9, 1954
Here is a check to relieve your concerns about the rent for the moment. It's a gift.
I have just written [to] James Johnson Sweeney [of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum],
Alfred Barr [of the Museum of Modern Art] and
Miss Katherine Coffey (of the Newark Museum of Art) about you, and asked them to visit you.
I hope something comes of it.
December 23, 1954
Kelly sent a postal card to Alexander and Louisa Calder on December 23, 1954, on which he painted an interesting image; a flat, black circle that was vertically cropped, and positioned between a red and a yellow surface. This familiar design obviously associates with Kelly's painting characteristics like clear curves and pure flat colors. On the back of the card, Kelly wrote a simple but affectionate message, mentioning his recent visit to Calder's house in Roxbury, Connecticut.: "WE HAD A GREAT TIME CHEZ VOUS!"
In 1955, Calder traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to arrange an exhibition at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas (Museum of Fine Arts). There he wrote to Kelly about his efforts to find canvasses that Kelly and painter Jack Youngerman (who introduced Kelly and Calder to each other in Paris) had sent to be displayed at the Cuatro Muros Gallery in Caracas in 1952, but they were not sent back to them. Calder explains that he asked his fellow artist, Alejandro Otero, for help:
September 9, 1955
Forgive me for not answering your note, but I came here [on] August 15 (to work) and will have a show on Saturday, September 11 at Bellas Artes [Museum].
I had a note from Jack about the canvases you and he had sent here in '52– and they had never been able to give the canvases back. He says he sent 4, and you 3 [canvases].
Alejandro Otero has been helping me and seems extremely nice (to me) but I can understand you and Jack's getting annoyed.
But I have asked Otero, for the love he bears me, to collect the paintings and return them to you and jack. Can you write to Otero and tell him where to send the paintings? (you may want them sent to Paris?) and I will pay for the dispatch costs.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was one of the most prominent abstractionist sculptors. In 1939, he invented "kinetic sculptures", some of which could be several meters long; structures made of metallic planes and wires that were balanced with extreme precision but could move by airflow, mechanical tools, or hand force. These sculptures with their ever-changing structure suggested a new understanding of the relation between mass and space and are distinguished from the traditional methods of creating still sculptures.
Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is considered among the pioneers of hard-edge painting (in which clear-cut shapes and flatly colored surfaces are drawn). He was initially influenced by Hans Arp, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse, but later proceeded to paint wide flat colored surfaces on burlap and shaped canvases.
Images source: nytimes.com