Italian Painter and Mixed-Media Artist
Summary of Francesco Clemente
Acting as a dark shaman of the post-modern era while reacting against the dominance of increasing abstraction in preceding generations, Clemente helped reinvigorate painting by using recognizable human figures as his primary subject. In idiosyncratic and arresting images, he uses Neo-Expressionist techniques to represent late-20th-century people and their psychological conditions - fundamentally questioning what is real and what is of value to the human spirit. He has channeled his interests in literature, music, and film and blended them with philosophical ideas, signs and symbols drawn from other cultures (Hindu spiritualism in India, Tarot, and the Candomble religion of Brazil). His diverse approaches to making art have resulted in works that have decorated nightclubs and hotels, as well as gallery and museum walls.
- Clemente depicts many of the darker, unspoken or conflicting psychological aspects of being human, significantly updating earlier art movements of the late modern era, drawing on Surrealism's dream-like extensions and transgressions of ordinary daily life, and building on Expressionism's revelations of interior emotional states. In contrast to other prominent Neo-Expressionist painters such as Georg Baselitz and Julian Schnabel, Clemente embraces a wide range of cross-cultural ideas and symbols to address existential human issues.
- He combines classical modes of composition - with timeless settings and hints of ancient mythologies - into striking and highly accessible images that express very contemporary ambivalences about the body, sexuality, and human relationships with nature and one another.
- Clemente explores individual identity, and the various means for its construction by constantly questioning the idea of a singular self. Clemente's post-modern approach undermines earlier notions of a "unified ego" for individual human beings through artistic techniques such as distorting the faces and figures of individuals, as well as employing the literary techniques of allusion and allegory."
Biography of Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente was born in 1952 to an aristocratic but not especially wealthy family in what he would come to refer to as the "old Greek city" of Naples, Italy. At the time, World War II was still a very recent memory, and the fascist regime of Mussolini had carved deep and jagged rifts within the nation's artistic community, its aesthetic values, and its relationship with the traditions of other countries.
Important Art by Francesco Clemente
In watercolor, surrounded by a thick blue border, against a blue-gray backdrop, stands a ruddy human right hand, palm facing us. There is no suggestion of dismemberment - the wrist is merely out of the frame - but no other body parts are visible. Standing on each finger, scaled to the finger's width, is a different wild animal indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa: a rearing zebra on the pinkie, a tiger on the ring finger, an elephant on the middle finger, a lion on the index finger, and a giraffe on the thumb. Like most of Clemente's work, it invites a multitude of interpretations; the menagerie could represent our evolutionary ancestry, from which we draw our most natural, effortless tendencies; the diminutive scale of the creatures in relation to the human hand could suggest the human ambition to rise above the status of animals; or each of the creatures' contribution to informing the human spirit. In Hinduism, the five fingers of the hand are understood to represent the five continually flowing energies of the human body - known as Mudras, in an image borrowed from Middle Eastern culture of the Hamsa. This piece is representative of Clemente's early work, which reflects the influence of conceptual art, such as that of his mentor Boetti, on his work.
Against a backdrop of blue bricks, two nude figures interact with the standing corpse of a horned she-beast: a distressed man stands holding its severed head, while a more comfortable looking woman reclines underneath while suckling the beast's teat. A rope, tied as a harness around the beast's torso, dangles from the top of the frame. In the early 1980s, Clemente had incorporated Indian influences into his work and begun to become a fixture on the New York City art scene and his work began to more clearly incorporate themes of violence, sexuality, and other distortions. The unsettling juxtaposition of violence and relaxation, beauty and the grotesque in this work is not unusual among artists influenced by the Surrealist movement; what is perhaps more distinctive is the way it suggests that we are nourished by the bodies we kill, and even perhaps that there is no other way for survival among living creatures.
The image is painted in oil with bold, violent, colorful strokes. A man who resembles Clemente seems to stare, mouth agape, at the viewer. There is something unsettling about the figure: his face is a hollow mask. Small, pale versions of himself sit inside his ear listening, inside his eye sockets watching, inside his nostrils sniffing, inside his mouth moaning a word. They are confined within him, but they define him; his real face, his real identity, is a facade. This is a visual representation of the second major existential crisis Clemente reported having in 1971, when he became aware that he has no self - that what he thinks of as his personal identity is a hollow mask, and that he does not know what fills it.
Influences and Connections
- Nicola De Maria
- Fred Tomaselli
- Enzo Cucchi
Useful Resources on Francesco Clemente
- ClementeBy Rainer Crone and Georgia Marsh
- Francesco Clemente: A PortraitBy Rene Ricard
- Francesco Clemente: Between Citation and SatireOur PickBy James Cahill
- Clemente: A RetrospectiveOur PickBy Lisa Dennison
- Francesco Clemente: Between Silence and KnowingBy Becky Elmquist / Muse Magazine
- Sitting for Francesco ClementeBy Wendy Goodman / Vulture / November 24, 2015
- Art from a Sojourn or Two to India: Francesco Clemente Retrospective at Rubin MuseumBy Karen Rosenberg / New York Times / September 4, 2014
- Alba Clemente Interview: A Life on CanvasOur PickBy Lydia Slater / The Telegraph / April 1, 2013
- The Artist of Our Time?Our PickBy Kristine McKenna / Los Angeles Times / August 19, 1990
- A New Spirit in PaintingOur PickTrailer. Directed by Michael Blackwood
- BBC World News Interview with Francesco Clemente (2015)
- Brilliant Ideas: Francesco Clemente (2015)
- TateShots: Interview with Francesco Clemente - Studio Visit (2012)
- 55tv Interview with Francesco Clemente at the opening of his exhibition, "Mandala for Crusoe"(2012)
- Francesco Clemente in Conversation with Salman Rushdie (2011)
- Francesco Clemente, Alchemist of WaterOur PickThe Standard / September 10, 2015
- Francesco Clemente with Alex BaconOur PickBy Alex Bacon / The Brooklyn Rail / May 3, 2013
- Francesco ClementeBy Caleb Neelon / Citizens of Humanity
- Francesco Clemente: One of the Italian Big ThreeOur PickBy Edit Deak / Interview / April 1982