Born into a humble family, as a child he was forced to work in different manual trades. He soon moved to Madrid, where he became an apprentice plasterer in the studio of sculptor and decorator José Estanys, a job he left to work as a baker in the family business. His lack of primary education prevented him from entering the School of Arts and Crafts in the capital. While doing three years of military service in the Regiment of Engineers in Melilla, he makes his first sculptures, which he exhibits in an improvised way in a tent.
A self-taught genius, he spends hours drawing at the Café de Oriente, where he meets Rafael Barradas, who became his teacher. During this period, his productions lean towards a neo-cubism inspired by Cézanne. He publishes his first illustrations in the magazines Alfar and Ronsel; in 1925 he participates in the Exhibition of Iberian Artists, where he obtains great success, because of which he receives a scholarship from the Provincial Council of Toledo. He holds his first individual exhibition at the Ateneo de Madrid. Soon he begins to collaborate with Benjamín Palencia, with whom he builds the essential core of the so-called first School of Vallecas in 1927, in which they coincide with Maruja Mallo, Díaz Caneja and Rafael Alberti. Their first public manifestation is the exhibition inaugurated in the Ateneo of Madrid in June 1931. During the autumn of 1933 he collaborates with Torres García and creates sets and costumes for Federico García Lorca’s theater company La Barraca. Shortly afterwards he passed the public entrance exam to become a drawing teacher at El Escorial where he meets the daughter of the painter Francisco Sancha, Clara, whom he marries in 1936.
In 1937 he went to Paris, where he participated in the Spanish Pavilion of the International Exposition with a monolith of almost eleven meters for the entrance: El pueblo español tiene un camino que conduce a una estrella (The Spanish people have a road that leads to a star). After returning to Barcelona, in 1938 the government of the Republic sends him to Moscow as a teacher of Spanish refugee children in the USSR, a position that becomes difficult after the outbreak of World War II; his family is evacuated to the Soviet Republic of Bashkiria, where he remains until 1943.
In 1956, after Stalin’s death, he recovered his activity as a sculptor. His works, more stylized and poetical, take up the themes developed during his years of production in Spain: animals and female figures, among which the series of Mujeres Castellanas (Castilian women) stands out. Before his death in 1962, he contributed to the sets for the film Don Quixote, by the Russian director Gregori Kozintsev, shot in the Ukraine, and held one of the last monographic exhibitions dedicated to his work as a set designer.