With Flying Colors

Alexander Calder for Braniff Airlines

The Spirit of South America, a Douglas DC-8-62 featuring Le Poisson and L'Aigle painted to the engines.

In the early 1973, Braniff Airlines commissioned Alexander Calder to paint one of their aircrafts to celebrate twenty-five years of travel to South America. Excited by the prospect of his artwork literally flying around the world, Calder accepted and submitted designs to cover a Douglas DC-8-62. The finished craft, named The Flying Colors of South America featured a bold design in primary colors, executed by a paint crew with Calder attending to the details and additional flourishes—including his trademark “Beasties” which were painted on the engines. 

The present work depicts one of these stylized creatures printed to commemorate the project. The aircraft was unveiled at the 1975 Pairs Air Show and made such an impression that Braniff commissioned two more planes, both Boeing 727s. Calder completed The Flying Colors of the United States featuring an abstract American Flag in time for the 1976 Bicentennial. Alas, the artist did not live to complete the third aircraft, The Spirit of Mexico

Alexander Calder 1898–1976

Born in 1898 to Nanette Lederer Calder and Alexander Stirling Calder, a painter and a sculptor respectively, Alexander Calder was encouraged to be creative and make things by hand. As a child he made gifts for his family and jewelry for his sister’s dolls. In 1915, Calder attended Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey graduating in 1919 with a degree in mechanical engineering because his parents didn’t want him to struggle as an artist. After completing school, Calder work a myriad of jobs including draftsman for Edison Company, a staff member at Lumber magazine, coloring maps for a hydraulics engineer and timekeeper for a logging camp.

In the spring of 1922 Calder attended night classes in drawing and the following year he decides to pursue a career as a painter. By 1925 Calder had his first art exhibition and in 1926 he made his first sculptures out of wood and wire. Calder relocated to Paris, socializing with the Parisian avant-garde, and started making mechanical toys and abstract sculptures. His kinetic works, a departure from traditional sculpture, became known as ‘mobiles’, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp.

Calder’s artistic endeavors ranged from mobiles to stabiles (static sculptures) both small and large, to jewelry and paintings. Today his works can be found in numerous museum collections around the world including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.

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