Antoni Clave Biography

Antoni Clave




Painter, printmaker, sculptor, and designer Antoni Clavé was born in Barcelona, Spain, on April 5, 1913. His first introduction into creative design was as an apprentice at a textile shop that specialized in corsets. Soon, he began taking night classes at the School of Fine Arts and Crafts, Barcelona under Angel Ferrant and Felix Mestres. Additional work through the 1920s included poster design for the Cinematografica Nacional Espanola, Spain's national film industry.

With the onset of the Spanish Civil War he was drafted to fight on the Aragon front for the Republican Army, before his friend Joaquim Marti Bas secured him a position as a propaganda artist for the government. Upon the fall of Barcelona to Franco's army in 1936, he, along with most of the Catalan population, fled to France and was held in a detention camp for several months before being released, with only his art and a few francs to his name. His first show took place in Perpignan and featured the works he created in the detention camp. In April of 1939, he finally arrived in Paris; however, the Germans had, too, and his early attempts at exhibition in the art capital of the world were thwarted by the panic of encroaching war.

By the mid 1940s Clavé had found some security as an illustrator for such publications as Gavroche, Aventure, and Jumbo. While he continued to paint and print, he also found work as a set designer, and in 1952 he was working for ballets and opera houses. He moved to Montparnasse and started a family, and found support in the other expat Spaniards taking refuge in the city that proved to be in as much upheaval as home. Through these friends he met Pablo Picasso, who would attend his shows and eventually become a close friend.

The late 1940s saw more success for his fine art, and he began  to show internationally, including in London, Algeria, Prague, Sweden, Italy, and Argentina. In 1952 he was invited to Hollywood to work as art director and costume designer for the film Hans Christian Andersen, which earned him two Academy Award nominations. Other productions included Los Caprichos and Carmen (Roland Petit troupe, 1946, 1949); La maison de Bernarda Alba (Marcel Achard, Theatre l'Oeuvre, 1951), and the Marriage of Figaro (Amurice Sarrazin, Theatre de la cour de l'Archeveché, 1962). His first major retrospective was held in 1958 at Galerie Creuzevault in Paris.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s he incorporated textile deisgn and sculptures, including found object and bas relief, into his oeuvre. He relocated to the South of France in 1965 and continued to exhibit internationally, including a major show in tokyo at the Matsuzakaya gallery. Further travels to the U.S. exposed him to the graffiti of the New York subway, an experience that altered his artistic path well into the 1980s. It wouldn't be until the 1980s that his homeland, Spain, would truly recognize his work. From 1980 to 1984 he was given several shows in Madrid, barcelona, and elsewhere. Clavé worked until well into the 1990s, and was commissioned by Barcelona's city council to design a monumental sculpture honoring the centennial exhibition of 1888. He died in St. Tropez on September 1, 2005. 

Clavé's work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Paris; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao; the British Museum, London; and the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, among many others.

A more compete timeline of Clavé's work and life can be found on the website of the artist's estate.