Retour du Japon – Focus 27

In 1986, Antoni Clavé travels to Japan for the second time, where exhibitions of his work are held in Tokyo, Osaka and Hakone. As in 1972, the country fascinated him; having entered full force into a modernity that Europe in the 1980s could only dream of. Despite the aggressive neon lights, the dizzying hubbub of the city and the futuristic architecture, traditional Japan still had its place. Calligraphy, ukiyo-e and the very graphic use of seals had a lasting effect on Clavé’s imagination. While in Japan, Clavé did not make any sketches, but took photos and shot films on super-8, all tools for collecting elements that he could use once he returned to France.

Pierre Cabane, in 1990, writes:   Clavé passed through the prism of the Far East as Alice through the looking glass; on the other side there was, in the “painting of the passing world”, a grasp of life and time, a poetic message expressed by a kind of rhythmic energy whose calligraphy determines the space and nourishes the lifeblood.

On his return, Clavé gave free rein to his inspiration, and his creations are grouped together under the title Retour du Japon. He combined Indian ink with his favorite practices of collage of different papers and oil on canvas. It is of course the whole space of the painting that is transformed by this approach. Like a guest in the Far East, Clavé comprehends fullness and emptiness, the silence, the visible and the invisible, the opening of a new field of possibilities. Another characteristic element of this series is the imprint of his name made with a Japanese seal (hanko), which he likes to cover his canvases with, as here in the bottom right-hand corner of the composition. The inking, the application of the seal and its positioning in the work are an art form in itself, in the Far East, to which Clavé pays homage by appropriating the use of these stamp-signatures.

In March 2011 the first space entirely dedicated to the work of Antoni Clavé was opened in Yamanashi, near Tokyo. This “Clavé Gallery” or “Museum of Light” was designed by Tadao Ando. Its inauguration took place 24 years after Clavé’s own tribute to another great Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki.

Retour du Japon is currently on display at Art Paris by the Clavé Fine Art Gallery (until 2 April).