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Francesco Clemente

Italian Painter and Mixed-Media Artist

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: March 23, 1952 - Naples, Italy

Important Art by Francesco Clemente

The below artworks are the most important by Francesco Clemente - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.


Artwork Images

Map of What is Effortless (1978)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Gouache on paper - Private collection, Milan


Artwork Images

Water and Wine (1981)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Gouache on paper - Art Gallery of New South Wales


Artwork Images

Name (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection


Artwork Images

Self-Portrait with Black Gloves (1996)

Artwork description & Analysis: A nude man, again with Clemente's features, and the distorted proportions of a homunculus, holds his head between the fingers of his two gloved hands. Eyebrows arched, he stares at the viewer. Behind him is the blank canvas itself, and nothing else. The painting is entirely in black and white. Clemente's gloves and genitals are the only detailed elements, the rest is set out in bold dark strokes. The painting doesn't necessarily convey anger, but there is an unmistakable note of aggression; his expression seems mocking or confused, and his nudity appears to be more exhibitionistic than vulnerable or sensual. His posture is indicative of a vague, self-directed threat, or of a necessary support to a vulnerable self - as if his hands were gun-like weapons. His use of the gloves suggests that some unknown means is preventing him from directly connecting to his own identity.

Colored chalks on paper - Private collection

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Artwork Images

Alba (1997)

Artwork description & Analysis: The canvas compresses the body of Clemente's wife, Alba, into an improbable reclining pose. Wearing an off-the-shoulder red dress, red flats, red lipstick, and a bulbous golf cuff bracelet, she gazes at the viewer with penetrating, somewhat dolorous brown eyes. Behind her is a backdrop of amorphous blue, giving the overall effect that she is floating in something like a petri dish. The connection between glamour and the unnatural social construction of beauty hints at the way in which our perception of such beauty is unavoidably warped, an illusion grounded in fantasy, and something that contorts and disfigures the earthly human form. Clemente would go on to paint many portraits in this somewhat claustrophobic, distorted style. The details of each portrait vary - some are standing, some seated, while he emphasizes different features and highlights the different clothing and accessories of his individual subjects.

Oil on canvas - Guggenheim, Bilbao


Artwork Images

The Backpacker (2012)

Artwork description & Analysis: In hues of red, blue, and gray, the figures of eighteen identical men in business suits (or as the title suggests eighteen frames of the same man in a business suit and backpack) walk along a beige platform, then down the side of it. Behind them, a rusty brown wall drips with grime. Whether we are looking at a crowd or a montage, it is the forward motion that allows the figures to demonstrate purpose within these bleak surroundings - just as our goals and aspirations, our own forward motion, allow us to transcend our own surroundings. There is a vitality and strength here in their relentless momentum. But it may be significant also that these figures, despite the purpose that forward motion can provide, must all march inevitably off the platform to the ground below and beyond the frame. While Clemente's recent work has not depended as much on a conceptual basis as his 1970s work, he has never entirely abandoned it; rather, he has incorporated it into a diverse and ever-growing aesthetic repertoire.

Pigment on Linen



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Related Art and Artists


Artwork Images

Flexible (1982)

Artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Artwork description & Analysis: Flexible features two of Basquiat's most famous motifs: the griot and the venerable crown. A sole black figure, half cadaver, half living entity, stares "blindly" at the viewer, its arms creating a closed circuit, perhaps a reference to spiritualized energy. With few distinguishing characteristics, the subject takes on the visage of the Everyman. At the same time, this is not just any figure, but one of African ethnicity and proud heritage a clear reference to Basquiat's own identity (note the diagrammatic rendering of the figure's lungs and abdomen, reminiscent of the young Basquiat's fascination for Gray's Anatomy sketches). Given that the griot is traditionally a kind of wandering philosopher, street performer, and social commentator all in one, it is probable that Basquiat saw himself in this role within the New York art world, one that nurtured his artistic success but also swiftly exploited it for material profit.

Acrylic and oil paint stick on wood - The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat


Artwork Images

Self-Portrait (1986)

Artist: Andy Warhol

Artwork description & Analysis: Warhol's self portraits that he created throughout his career reveal an underlying theme. It can be successfuly argued that Warhol's most successful artwork was the image of himself, invented and reinvented over his body of work. Simply consider the fact that Warhol started his art career as a nerdy, shy, balding designer and ended it as a star whose popularity could match his greatest depictions (Monroe, Elvis, Mao).

In this particular work, the focus is on Warhol's head and wig (one of dozens he wore over the years). By using repetitive images, each slightly different to the next, and then overlapping the images, Warhol produces the illusion of movement. Created towards the end of his life, Self-Portrait (1986) displays the artist in his signature wig, and also makes dramatic use of shadow and light.

Synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Artwork Images

The Clemente Family (2005)

Artist: Eric Fischl

Artwork description & Analysis: In this oil painting, Fischl captures an unorthodox portrait of Francesco Clemente, an artist friend, and his family. The family members are widely dispersed within a dark room, pierced in sections by harsh light that may come from an opening door. Whiteness engulfs the faces of Clemente's wife and one of his daughters, yet Clemente sits alone on the edge of the canvas and his two sons stand in the shadows of the back corner. This separation of brightness and shadow carves a sense of striking emotional disconnect between the family members augmented by the awkward spatial composition of the room.

Fischl's fascination with family dynamics and relationships remains a central theme of his oeuvre. In this particular case he utilizes the composition to communicate the dynamics he observes: the strong centrally located matron, the reluctantly present sons, and the complacent daughters. Like many of Fischl's social realistic portraits, he invites the viewer into the role of photographer even while his lush brushstrokes and slightly skewed perspectives remind us of the inherent liberties of painting. Fischl never poses his subjects but rather notes their behavior and the manner in which they interact truthfully and without artificiality.

Oil on linen - Smithsonian American Art Museum


Artwork Images

Adieu (1982)

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Artist: Georg Baselitz

Artwork description & Analysis: Baselitz, who grew up in post-World War II East Germany, was the earliest and most senior member of the group of Neo-Expressionists. His works were distinctive in that he frequently painted his figures upside down as if to create a modern-day counterpart to the seventeenth-century paintings of a world "topsy-turvy." Though the artist denied ascribing any particular meanings to his works, he nonetheless contributed meaningful figures that served as visual analogues to the upheavals of recent German history. The figures here seem to have no point of origin and are suspended awkwardly between the top of the picture and the empty space beneath their heads, existing in a sort of horrifying limbo. The title of the picture also suggests a separation, confirmed by one figure moving away from the other. Their bodies are sites of violence as indicated by the ferocious and expressive brushwork, and their organic and vulnerable bodies contrast with the abstract geometry of the background -- a background that reflects the figures' emotional states in its intensity of color and paint handling, but which seems also to function in a way that suggests the indifference of a universal pattern.

Oil on canvas - Tate Gallery, London

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