This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A10508.
Calder's work transcended traditional notions of sculpture and completely redefined the genre. Rejecting the idea that sculpture must be a solid structure, his first three-dimensional forms were light and transparent figures made entirely from wire. In Policeman, he translates the crisp, minimal line of his early drawings into real space. With one continuous line the wire bends and folds to reveal the essential characteristics of a policeman. Created in 1928, it was exhibited that same year at Calder's first-ever solo show at the Weyhe Gallery in New York. Upon his return to Paris, he was dubbed by a French critic, "le roi du fil de fer."
Calder transforms the graphic, all-black wire into an elegant series of loops and twists to create an animated figure. The artist gracefully describes the officer's rounding torso with just three, curving wires. Along the Policeman's front, a cascade of loops unambiguously renders the jacket buttons. Calder defines the officer's face with simple curves and pinches of wire, which project and recess to form the helmet, angled nose and large mustache. If gently tapped, the sculpture responds with allover vibrations, mimicking the stroll of a policeman. Balancing dense detail with empty space, Calder creates a dynamic and vibrating sculpture that offers different perspectives from each vantage point.
"I think best in wire," Calder once commented. According to Calder, his chosen material "moves of its own volition . . . jokes and teases," and "goes off into wild scrolls and tight tendrils"--perfectly suited for this exuberant Policeman. His fondness for working in wire also recalls his training at the Stevens Institute, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. His unique background allowed him to create inimitable metal structures that incorporate aesthetic and mechanical virtuoso.
His imaginative "drawing in space" brought new dynamism to his linear forms. The graphic silhouette of Policeman recalls the influence of Paul Klee's single-line drawings. However, Calder uses wire to demarcate and manipulate three-dimensional areas, so that it engages and expresses new imagery from each vantage point. Because of its unfaltering clean line, Policeman appears intuitively constructed by Calder's familiar hand. But in fact, the work was hardly spontaneously crafted: Calder's archive drawings reveal that this three-dimensional form relied on rigorous preparatory sketches, aligning his innovative sculpture with the highly traditional practice of drawing models before executing on full-scale.
This 1928 work demonstrates Calder's debt to his time working as an illustrator and caricaturist for publications including New York's National Police Gazette. Caricature, he learned, demands more than just technical ability: in Policeman, he subtly exaggerates the essential few features of the policeman's dress and physiognomy for comic effect. Articulated with slight bends and flourishes of wire, the simple contours of Policeman personify a spirited uniformed officer, humorously walking with a baton behind his back.
Policeman's detailed iconography is especially impressive in light of its formal simplicity. The work shows Calder's incisive grasp of essentials, experimenting with what is necessary to create a characteristic police officer. With rhythmic organization of wire, he creates abstract forms that gain their meaning in holistic form. Regarding his wire forms, Calder noted that in their simplicity" [lies] the great possibilities which I have only recently come to feel for the wire medium," a feature indebted to the sculptures of Modigliani who worked with the bare minimum to evoke physiognomic details. Reflecting later on this series of wire sculptures, Calder remarked that, "although their present size is diminutive, I feel that there is no limitation to the scale to which they can be enlarged. There is one thing, in particular, which connects them with history. One of the canons of the futuristic painters, as propounded by Modigliani, was that objects behind other objects should not be lost to view, but should be shown through the others by making the latter transparent. The wire sculpture accomplishes this in a most decided manner" (A. Calder, "Statement on Wire Sculpture," January-February 1929, Unpubl. MS, Calder Foundation archives, New York).