Saturday, May 26, 2012

Calder's Magic and Children

Alexander Calder embodied a spirit of play. He invented the whimsical mobile and created a fantastic traveling circus from cork, wire, buttons, scraps of fabric, wood and paper. He breathed life into his work with boundless imagination. He packed his clever circus in 5 amazing suitcases and traveled back and forth between Paris and New York delighting audiences young and old. When he was a child his artistic parents encouraged him to experiment with shapes and motion. As art and music is being cut from public schools I'm passionate about encouraging young minds to stretch their artistic muscles like Sandy did. 

I teamed up with the incredible fourth graders at the San Diego Cooperative Charter School and art teacher Allison Bell. We created mobiles to evoke the spirit of Sandy Calder and students crafted original animals to re-create his circus from found materials. Ms. Merrill's fourth graders read inspiring books; Sandy's Circus by Tanya Lee Stone with illustrations by Boris Kulikov and The Calder Game written by Blue Balliett, pictures by Brett Helquist. Along with the art making each child researched books and websites like the wonderful Whitney for Kids and wrote personal essays that were put on display all about Alexander. Thanks to Duane Gardella at the City College theatre and parent volunteers who in a few short hours stepped in to help me put together the project for Art Night.

Inspiring Reads: Sandy's Circus and The Calder Game
by Tanya Lee Stone                 by Blue Balliett

I worked in my studio last week to assemble an art salon worthy of their creations. Visiting local thrift shops I recycled large white sheets into canvas for Calder inspired graphics. These were used to transform their classroom into a gallery that resembled a circus tent. Using cardboard and paint I created playful animals including a leaping red bull and seal that juggled beach balls. 

Juggling seal made from painted cardboard

I remember taking my son to the National Gallery of Art and we were fascinated by the shapes and shadows of Calder's mobiles and sheet metal animals. I cut circus forms out of painted cardboard and hot-glued them to sturdy plastic straws so kids could play with shadow shape and scale.

Playing with shape and scale in the shadow theatre

Paintings on white sheets pay tribute to Calder's wire sculptures

Lost in a forest of whimsical mobiles created by children.
Vintage travel stickers were pasted
on old suitcases in homage to Calder's traveling circus.

A fantastical flea circus was performed in the Calder Salon on Art Night. Children approached me in wide-eyed wonder to see the beauty of their own sculptures and marvel at their classroom changed in just one afternoon by the magic of art. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hail the King of Wild Things

An 8 year old boy wrote:
"Dear Mr. Sendak, 
How much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there".                            

Earlier this year my son Santiago made the drawing above from memory. It was one of those rare moments that stick with you because I remember the visual impact the Wild Things made on me as a child. My very first painting in college was of monsters hiding in the woods and it still hangs in my sister's room, a tribute to my hero. He was the first author/illustrator who inspired me deeply. When I heard the news of his passing this morning I closed up my studio and chose to wander around all day like Max.
Like Antonio Gaudi or Frida Kahlo, Maurice Sendak was a frail child who dealt with one illness after another. His world was filled with terrors like World War II, the Depression and the Holocaust and many of his close relatives perished. He grew up poor, Jewish and gay wanting to make his parents happy. Spending many hours in bed, the one thing he really loved to do was draw.
His drawings and stories brought authentic magic into this world. Take time to listen this wonderful NPR Interview on Fresh Air. His melancholy was tempered by a serious dose of jovial exuberance. This genuine man was the true stuff of legends. He was a mentor to so many aspiring illustrators and writers not to mention decades of children who identify with his timeless tales and unforgettable characters. His extraordinary books are listed here.

I can only guess that when Maurice arrived the angels blew their horns loudly and shouted "Let the wild rumpus start!"