Alexander Calder: Bold Gouaches

March 25, 2020 – March 2, 2022
New York, NY


Heather James is proud to offer an exceptional collection of gouache works by the midcentury master Alexander Calder. All completed in the last decade of the artist’s life, these works show Calder in full command of his distinctive artistic language.

Although we know him today best for his sculptures, Calder started his artistic career as an abstract painter, always preferring gouache as a medium for his painted work. Sometimes known as opaque watercolor, gouache is a water-soluble paint which handles much like watercolor for the artist. Watercolor and gouache both allow the artist to paint quickly, but both are also extremely unforgiving mediums as they dry quickly and are difficult to rework. However, unlike watercolor, which has a translucent appearance, gouache contains white pigment, rendering the color opaque. Calder valued gouache for exactly these reasons, it dried quickly like a watercolor but rendered bold colors that he sought.

In the 1920s, Calder began to experiment with sculpture, bending and twisting metal in order to “draw” in three-dimensional space. By the 1940s and ’50s, Calder had become so popular as a sculptor that he largely left painting behind, concentrating on creating the kinetic sculptural vocabulary for which he is known. Toward the end of his life, however, once he had secured fame and renown as a sculptor, Calder returned to the more intimate and less physically involved process of gouache painting in earnest.

As he returned to gouache painting with a lifetime of experience as a sculptor, Calder began to transcribe the three-dimensional vocabulary of sculptural forms he had developed onto the two-dimensional surface of the paper. Like his sculpture, the gouache works echo Mondrian’s bright palette of primary colors and the whimsical nature of Miro’s work, both artists that Calder admired greatly.