One look at a colorfully sophisticated mobile by artist and writer Mark Leary and you can’t help but smile. Inspired by sculptor and artist Alexander Calder, they’re a modern-day take on an artform that uses motion, and a touch of whimsy, to mesmerize. We asked Mark for a look around his studio in Bend, OR — as well as his thoughts on why it is that some furnishings by Ray and Charles Eames always seem so well suited to bask beneath these captivating works of art.
How long have you been working as a mobilist? What drew you to it? I guess I’m really just a guy who does art and happens to be making art that moves. I started selling my mobiles in 2008, but had been tinkering with shape, form, and movement for many years prior. I started with the goal of selling one mobile that year — and ended up selling over 100.
Ultimately, what’s kept me in love with mobiles is my love of modern design and its clarity of expression. It may sound like self-obvious, but I just love the way mobiles move. There’s something so simple, so graceful, so true about it. They belie the very air that is always swirling around us and expose this invisible “stuff,” making it real, tangible in pretty magical ways. Mobiles bump up against something that is unseen and collaborate with it to make something wholly dynamic, always changing. The results, for me, are hypnotic, meditative. They allow for something — the truest definition of creative energy, I guess — where the outcome is so much more than its pieces, a cooperation, a showing up, a serendipitous alliance.
But, really, they’re just cool.
What inspires you in your work? I’ve always done some kind of art and am a writer by profession, so I guess I’ve always liked making things with my hands. Once I discovered how deceptively difficult mobiles were to make well (there are no less than 18 stages every one of my mobiles goes through), I think I was motivated by the challenge to create forms that can appear ridiculously simple, but require a fair amount of technical work to make it so.
But, that’s not like inspiration-inspiration, is it? As boring as it may sound, I am inspired by visually-pleasing things and, I suppose that mobiles — when done right — satisfy that in me. Without trying to sound corny, I love the random symmetry of drops of water clinging to the hood of a waxed car, or the satisfying progression of the leaves on a Mountain Ash as they turn from green to gold to red in fall, or the faultless vertical lines of a suspension bridge. And, really, I’m inspired most by the simple pleasure people seem to get when they watch one of my mobiles. It’s kid-like and that’s fun to be a part of in some small way.
Tell us about your studio space. Any special considerations in its set-up? My workspace is split into two halves that couldn’t be more different. For half the mobile-making process, I work in one of the more barefoot-unfriendly places you’ll ever visit. It’s fitted with all the tools of the trade, including sanders, drills, metal files, and an assortment of clippers, nippers, and pliers. And, it’s got a ragtag paint booth, shards of metal poking out here and there, steel dust floating in the air, and countless colored cans of paint ready to explode. Then, if I’m lucky enough to survive that part of the process, the actual creation and assembly of my mobiles happens in an obsessively clean indoor space where I recline in a modern, but beat-up chair sporting a red leather cushion with a converted, rolling Nordisk Andels Eksport as my work table. Most definitely modest, but it does the trick.
Ah, Eames and Calder. Close your eyes. You can see it, can’t you? For me, their work epitomizes the beauty, pragmatism, and genius of the modern design movement.
There’s an iconic picture from Charles Eames’ 1946 show at MoMA where his new molded plywood lounge chair is sharing the photo with a Calder stabile that is so clean, so crisp, so right. That was right around the time that the Eameses started with Herman Miller, too.
As for Calder and the Eameses, in their own very different, yet complimentary ways, they were all relentlessly interested in curvilinear form, spatial relationships, and color.
You just have to look at the most well-known furniture by Eames — pieces like the signature lounge chair and ottoman, molded plywood folding screens, molded plastic armchairs, and aluminum group management chairs — and you can see the way line, shape, and palette were so important to them. And, obviously, you can see the exact same attentions across Calder’s body of work. I dig that.
All were seemingly fearless in their art and never satisfied — always driven by what came next.
Experimenters, tinkerers, paradigm busters. How can you not like that about them?
Photos: Mark Leary