25 March 2019

Refugees: Antoni Clave

Scenes of puzzlement and distress are often captured with the simplest artistic tools - crayon, pen or pencil, and paper.  Reflecting on this eighty year old work by a now forgotten Spanish artist I find its poignancy sadly familiar.  Without the title to guide us, we recognize these people as refugees; their self-protective postures and worried faces tell us so.  The downward-slanting lines tell of a rainy night that drains the color from their faces and their clothing and the hazy neither-here-nor-thereness of the pastels supplies an inspired correlative to their uncertainty.   What awaits them is as mysterious to us as it is to them.

In February 1939, the Spanish artist Antoni Clave fled from his home in  Barcelona to escape the  carnage of the Spanish Civil War.  Unfortunately, soon after he crossed the border Clave was detained at a military camp  near Perpignan in southern France.  While Clave cooled his heels waiting and hoping to be released he turned his tools, pastels and ink, to record daily rounds of the keepers and the involuntary guests at the camp. After his release which was arranged by the future curator of Perpignan's Museum of Fine Arts, Clave moved to Paris.

Antoni Clave (1913-2005) had a long artistic career that began in swirls of baroque detail and was gradually stripped of ornamentation, becoming simpler and more modern, eventually arrived at pure abstraction.  Beyond painting he began to work with stage and costume design, and was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1952 for Art Direction and Costume Design. He died at Saint-Tropez at the age of ninety-two.

For more about Antoni Clave ( a bit of a rough translation from the French)

Antoni Clave - The Exodus, 1939, pastel and ink on paper, private collection, courtesy of Musee Hyancinthe Rigaud, Perpignan.


Rouchswalwe said...

Ach, you are so right. Uncertainty and swirling distress ...

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe, I thought of refugees even before I read the title. It is beyond sadness that their plight is so recognizable.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ja, I agree. Unimaginable, their plight.