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Jose De Creeft

 (1884 - 1982)
Jose De Creeft was active/lived in New York / France, Spain.  Jose De Creeft is known for modernist stone sculpture, expressionist sketches.

Jose De Creeft

Biography from the Archives of askART

Modernist sculptor, Jose De Creeft was born in Guadalajara, Spain in 1884. Interested in sculpture as a child, De Creeft made and sold works in the streets as a teenager. Before leaving for Paris in 1905 to study further, he was apprenticed, in 1895, to a maker of religious images; in 1898, to the firm of Masriera and Campin; and in 1900, to the government's official sculptor, Don Augustin Querol.

De Creeft left for Paris in 1905, studying briefly at the Academie Julian and in 1911, attended the Maison Greber to learn to reproduce in stone works initially made in clay and plaster. De Creeft broke with his training in modeling and casting in 1915 and turned to direct carving of wood and stone. Through direct carving, his desire to preserve the natural qualities of the material met his interests in the sculptural arts of Pre-Columbian America and Africa.

Respected in academic circles, De Creeft was commissioned in 1918 to sculpt a granite war memorial in Saugues (Puy de Dome) dedicated to the French foot soldier, "Le Poilu." In 1925, and for a short time after, he experimented with assemblage techniques, but De Creeft remained a carver. From 1927 to 1929, he created two hundred stone carvings for Roberto Romonje's Forteleza in Majorca, Spain. De Creeft began exhibiting regularly in modernist exhibitions such as the Salon d'Automne between 1919-28.

He emigrated to America in 1929 with his reputation as a direct carver already secure and had his first solo exhibition at Feragil Galleries in New York. De Creeft helped to popularize both direct-carving methods and, beginning the following year, the use of ballpeen hammers to make three-dimensional forms from lead sheets ("Les Deux Amis," 1941, Norton Gallery, and School of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida). In styles ranging from Art Moderne to Expressionism, he projected an opulence of gesture.

De Creeft was also a teacher of sculpture in New York City at the New School of Social Research, 1932-39; the Art Students League, 1944-48; and Black Mountain College, the summer of 1944. De Creeft earned United States citizenship in 1940.

In 1951, Jose De Creeft sculpted the "Poet" for Philadelphia's Fairmount Park Association.

De Creeft never lost his interest in casting despite the strong appeal of direct carving. New Being is a brass casting that retains the rough textures of the red Spanish marble version (Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, New York). New Being possesses a distinctive Pre-Columbian character, possibly the inspiration of the Mayan Chac Mool figures at Chichen Itza, which also influenced Henry Moore.

De Creeft once said, "Sculpture is the creation of three-dimensional form in space. In my opinion, the most fundamental principle required to obtain that end is the use of massive volume and contour. I cannot believe that sculpture is a mechanical toy, a feat of engineering, or a series of spaces in material."

Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"

Wichita State University,

Biography from Levis Fine Art
Starting from his humble beginnings in Spain to his early international success in Paris, which was subsequently surpassed in America, Jose de Creeft forged his name in stone as a major American artist by the early 1940's. Known as one of the major contributors in developing key techniques in modernist sculpting, de Creeft drew from a wide variety of resources, among them primitivism, tribalism, abstraction, linearism, Folk Art, and his imagination, to create works which duly supported his ingenuity as an artist and capitalized on his versatility in successfully using any medium, style and theme. Most importantly, de Creeft's oeuvre retains all of the nuances and elements of human expression in its most intimate and fleeting moments. He successfully captured the soul of the medium and subject matter, transcending his emotional energy through his carving.

In 1915 de Creeft was living in Paris among the modernist artists of the first wave of modernism. Picasso, Gris, Miro and Braque were all instrumental in the European and American modernist movements and the Parisian ambiance set the stage for invaluable discussions on art, criticism and methodology. Desiring to formulate his own personal aesthetic, de Creeft departed from the traditional techniques and traditions of sculpting, which helped frame the conservative academic institutions worldwide, and instead wholeheartedly applied himself to the process of "taille direct", direct carving.

This method of carving allowed de Creeft to be a part of the entire process of creating a finished piece, one which was not defined as the result of a preconceived determination, but instead as a result of the unbridled spontaneity necessary for artistic fulfillment. Each sculpture embodies his philosophy that the relationship between the artist and his body of work is "reciprocal rather than hierarchical", allowing each to evolve from the relationship between the artisan and the innate personality of each material.

In addition to sculpting, de Creeft thoroughly enjoyed the art of painting, and drawing specifically, because it allowed him the most rapid documentation of his thoughts. It provided a means of expressing that which was too laborious to carve. The two-dimensional mediums and techniques allowed him to create an imaginary world, filled with animals, characters and landscapes, all which attested to his unwavering interest in "expressing his beliefs and feelings about life and to elevate mankind by demonstrating man's creative aspirations". (De Creeft, 1945). These works incorporate an imaginative world of both land and sea animals, both entangled and disassociated, delivering only the most necessary of features, a clear testament to his primitive and African influences.

Within his lifetime de Creeft was awarded the opportunity for several important public commissions including two hundred stone sculptures for the Fortaleza in Mallorca (1927-29), the Alice and Wonderland bronze group in New York City (1957-59), and the Nurses mosaic mural at the Bronx Municipal Hospital (1961-62) to name a few.

His work was included in numerous solo exhibitions around the world including a major retrospective at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona in 1980, which circulated throughout seven different cities in Spain, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1960 and major exhibition at the National Museum of Art, Washington D.C. in 1983. In addition, de Creeft has a long group exhibition history at landmark institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

© 2008 Levis Fine Art, Inc.

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About  Jose De Creeft

Born:  1884 - Guadalajara, Spain
Died:   1982 - New York City
Known for:  modernist stone sculpture, expressionist sketches