Whimsical sculpture of pop culture objects, many of them large and out-of-doors, is the signature work of this Swedish artist. His father was a diplomat and moved his family during Claes' childhood to New York State; Oslo, Norway; and Chicago Illinois, but Claes did not become an American citizen until 1950.
He began his formal art training at Yale University, graduating in 1951 and then enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1952 to 1954. In 1953, some of his satirical drawings were included in his first group show at the Club St. Elmo, Chicago, and he also painted at the Oxbow School of Painting in Michigan.
In 1956, he moved to New York where he drew and painted while working as a clerk in the art libraries of Cooper-Union. He became interested in environmental art through Allan Kaprow and his "Happenings," and in 1959, had his first one-man show, held at the Judson Gallery, New York where he exhibited wood and newspaper sculpture and painted papier-mache objects.
In 1960, he created his first Pop-Art environments and Happenings in a mock store full of plaster objects. Beginning 1965, he did colossal sized public sculpture such as pairs of scissors, ironing boards, and a typewriter eraser. "Lipstick" was the first to be executed and was placed outdoors on the Yale campus in 1969.
Using Lippincott, Inc., a fabrication firm, he made some of the objects in metal such as "Geometric Mouse and "Colossal Ashtray" and in 1976, a forty-foot clothespin in Philadelphia.
His work has been shown in many exhibitions of Pop and contemporary
art including the 1964 Venice Biennale.