ART NEWSROOM International


February 15 - June 4, 2000
Journey, Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente, Journey 1994-95  Pastel on paper, 26" x 19"
(Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery - New York 1997 Biennial Exhibition - March 20/June 1, 1997 Whitney Museum of American Art - New York)
Report by Rachel  Le Goff

The artist Francesco Clemente has a smooth head with a distinct pyramidal crown, regular features, small ears and a deep penetrating gaze that lends him the air of a mystic. It is this neat, attractive head that appears repeatedly throughout his art in works such as Contemplation, 1990 and in the beautiful androgynous head that is a totemic presence in countless paintings and drawings such as Journey 1994-5 and In Friendship, 1991. In the latter works he gives the head an African elegance, enhancing the lips and eyes as did the Ancient Egyptians.
Clemente however, is not of exotic origins. He was born in Naples, Italy in 1952 and was educated in Rome. He lives and works in New York, the place where any contemporary artist sensible about pursuing a lucrative career has to live.
Being of thoroughly Catholic latin origin and living in a brash modern metropolis does not stop Clemente cultivating his fascination with eastern religions. He studies Hinduism and often draws on the imagery of India in his work (Everything I Know, 1983). A strong element of spirituality and a seeming quest to enter supernatural realms permeates all Clemente's work. He has almost created a new mythology populated with recurrent figures and motifs. Myths, dreams, fears, lost rituals, tribal initiations, pagan sexuality, the artist puts us in touch with our primitive urges and reminds us of our universal origins.

Francesco Clemente - Moon, 1980
Tempera on 12 sheets of hand made 
paper mounted on muslin, 91" x 96 3/4"
(Courtesy of Sperone Westwater - New York)
F. Clemente, Moon

" I " reveals that, for Clemente, the self is not a distinct, but a permeable entity with borders that shift in encounters with other things, cultures, and people.
This blurring of identity is particularly evident in the watercolor Alba and Francesco (1982), in which husband and wife dissolve into one superimposed image. The works in “Unborn” evoke the paradoxical nature of Clemente’s art, which has the ability to recall simultaneously both past and present, man and woman, East and West, the spiritual and the physical, abstraction and figuration. “Bestiary” draws upon a series of medieval books that explored the moral and spiritual significance of animals. Revealing his belief in the equal importance of all orders of life, Clemente has developed a body of work, in which the human and animal realms, seemingly so separate, are often merged into unique forms. “Conversion to Her” explores the presence of diverse human sexuality explicitly portrayed in Clemente’s oeuvre. The works in “Amulets and Prayers” were all created in India and demonstrate Clemente’s interest in the elements, numbers and signs, alchemy, and the five senses, which the artist imbues with personal significance. “Books, Palimpsests, and Collaborations” explores Clemente’s openness to collaboration, specifically his connection with the world of poetry. “Sky” is a compendium of imagery revealing Clemente’s natural impulse to synthesize when faced with a wide variety of cultures and experiences.
Finally, “Rooms” recalls Renaissance stanze (rooms), in particular the interiors of del Cossa and Mantegna, which provide refuge from the outside world. The four spaces that make up “Rooms” house frescoes, an environment titled The Indigo Room (1983-84), The Fourteen Stations (1981-82), and La Stanza della Madre. Exploring such subjects as the family and the Empedoclean philosophy of the four elements, the latter room was designed specifically for Gallery 203 as a commission for the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 1997.


Francesco Clemente: A Portrait
Luca Babini
Francesco Clemente
 Italian Abstract Painter, Born 1952

State Museums of Berlin
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam
Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea

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