Critter Bleue Assise
Two years before his death, Alexander Calder created one of his most fascinating series: Crags and Critters, first exhibited at Galerie Maeght, Paris in 1975. Within the gallery space, the audience was transported to a magical, whimsical, and fantastical place of Calder’s own creation. Here, an escapist universe of colour, shape, and balance was created by his Critters (stablies) and his Crags (mobiles) so they could transport the audience. Critter Bleue Assise, is a dark blue anthropomorphic figure, lounging lazily, propping its body up with one hand. Relaxed and with a tranquil facial expression, the Critter looks out directly engaging with the viewer. This sculpture is unique amongst the others featured in the series due to its human-like appearance and lack of an extra limb, as is seen in the other Critters. To make this work, Calder cut strips of sheet metal with shears and then shaped the form using a vise and wooden blocks. Calder’s great skill as a sculptor partly draws on his background as a mechanical engineer where he learned about the malleability of sheet metal. His obsession with this medium continued throughout his career as he worked to master it, culminating in this series and other monumental sculptures finished before his death. By reducing the colour palette to a single primary colour, the work achieves the perfect balance between form and medium. Calder radically changed the landscape and possibilities of sculpture in the twentieth century and this work is a great example of this evolution due to its medium, its compositional balance, its theme, and its lack of base or plinth.
The Critters demonstrate a return for Calder to the realm of caricaturist figurative representation that had been so popular in his early career, for example in his miniature circus, Cirque Calder during the late 1920s and early 1930s. However, the inspiration for this series can also be understood through Calder’s relationship with the Surrealists, especially in his early career. Close parallels can be drawn between the work of Yves Tanguy and Critter Bleue Assie. In specific, Tanguy’s Untitled (Repondre) from 1938 features semi-abstract biomorphic figures inhabiting a mystical realm. These figures, just like Critter Bleue Assie, inhabit a mental landscape meant to test our emotions and seduce us with a mystery that does not reveal its secrets. Thus, Calder believed that art should ‘not be just a fleeting moment but a physical bond between the varying events in life.’ (Alexander Calder, ‘Comment réaliser l'art?’ from Abstraction-Création, Art Non Figuratif, no. 1, 1932) In this manner, Critter Bleue Assise symbolises Calder’s decade’s long exploration of the stabile and is a unique and exceptional materialisation of sculptural and painterly idioms demonstrating Calder’s poetic approach to making art.