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Artists Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente Photo

Francesco Clemente

Italian Painter and Mixed-Media Artist

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: March 23, 1952 - Naples, Italy

Francesco Clemente Timeline

Quotes

"The challenge is to show - and if you want to show it, you have to see it yourself - that opposites are not opposite, but are embracing each other."
Francesco Clemente
"I still feel that for a painter the task is to put an object into the world that is not going to be an answer to anything. It's going to be a reality of its own. This was a reaction to a heavily ideological stance that belonged to the generation before mine."
Francesco Clemente
"My work is always in flux and in transition, changing according to the context. The only constant factor can be described as 'the continuity of discontinuity.' I would not be disturbed if sometimes I find my own work hard to understand."
Francesco Clemente
"I am attracted to cultural contamination, to inclusive views, to rituals, to handmade things, to anonymity, to anything that looks worn by time, to anything that has a feel of poverty and nobility at the same time."
Francesco Clemente

"Collaboration is part of my work because the assumption of my work is that our identities are fragmented identities, that we're [each] not just one person but many persons."

Francesco Clemente Signature

Synopsis

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 twentieth 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.

Key Ideas

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."

Most Important Art

Francesco Clemente Famous Art

Map of What is Effortless (1978)

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.
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Francesco Clemente Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

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.

In interviews, Clemente often speaks of the profound existential crisis he experienced at the age of 19 while studying architecture at the University of Rome. This was at a point in the history of mind-body philosophy when the idea of an immortal soul lost currency among secular thinkers, as neuroscience and behaviorism challenged fundamental ideas of selfhood and conscious identity. There were two elements to Clemente's crisis: the certainty that he and all other people would inevitably die, and the certainty that even as a living person, he had no personal identity, no individual consciousness.

Early Period

Francesco Clemente Biography

Working mostly on paper in his early years, his first exhibition at Rome's Galleria Giulia (1971) evidenced his central concern with exploring the fundamental questions of identity, which has remained with him throughout his career. Young Clemente studied under the innovative conceptual artist and sculptor Alighiero e Boetti, and in 1973 he and Boetti traveled to India. Clemente discovered the Indian philosophical concept of anatman (no-self), and with it, the idea that what we think of as our human identity is in fact a hollow mask. Much of Clemente's work, and most specifically his self-portraits, can be read as an ongoing attempt to wrestle with the implications of this idea.

Mature Period

Francesco Clemente Photo

In 1981-82, Clemente created his first large oils, a series of twelve paintings titled The Fourteen Stations, which were shown at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1983. In 1984, he worked with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol on a series of intriguing collaborations at Warhol's studio, the Factory. As Franziska Knupper wrote for Aesthetica: "Clemente uses various materials ranging from oil or acrylic to watercolour; he employs bright colours as well as sinister tones ... Not surprisingly, a collaboration with the other artists only felt like a natural 'extension to himself' ... For him, the contradiction and differences between their styles only contributes to the strength of the paintings." Clemente also later collaborated with the poet Allen Ginsberg on a series of bookworks (1983) and with the poet Robert Creeley on some larger paintings (1997).

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Francesco Clemente Biography Continues

Since 1981, Clemente has functionally lived in three different cities: Naples, Varanasi (in India), and New York City. In New York he established himself as an irreplaceable fixture of the art scene and achieved many critical successes including a Guggenheim retrospective in 1999-2000. He continued to travel and work in other locales, from Afghanistan to Jamaica and the American Southwest. In 1995, Clemente spent 51 days trekking and meditating in the Himalayas, painting a new watercolor each day.

The classically handsome Clemente has also had an unlikely side career as an actor, most notably appearing opposite Matt Damon as an ill-fated hypnotherapist in Good Will Hunting (1997). His paintings were also used as the work of Finnegan Bell (Ethan Hawke) in Alfonso Cuaron's 1998 reimagining of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Clemente is fluent in English as well as Italian, and makes frequent appearances in the US media; his lengthy 2008 interview on PBS' Charlie Rose was one of the series' highlights.

In 2008, Clemente collaborated on a performing arts project with New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he exhibited his portraits of eight star singers. His work has been written about by professional art critics and significant literary figures such as Salman Rushdie (2006), Derek Walcott (2009), and Kirin Desai (2014), and has been featured in major exhibitions on nearly every continent of the world, including works using traditional Chinese papers in Shanghai (2014).

Current Work

Francesco Clemente Portrait

Clemente's recent work has involved mixed media, including photographs of sculptures, and 'Encampments' made in collaboration with a community of artists in Rajasthan. This work is a series of tents made of sumptuous illustrated fabric into which visitors were invited to enter and was exhibited at MASS MoCa (2015) and Carriageworks in Sydney, Australia (2016).


Legacy

Clemente's work bridges movements and brings together media and aesthetic sensibilities that are seldom found in the work of the same artist. He has taught a generation of young people to be unafraid of drawing their inspiration from the artistic traditions of other cultures, in exploring the basic questions of identity, sexuality, and transcendence - topics with which he wrestled himself. Furthermore, he has taught artists to be amateurs - to be unafraid to experiment with media and techniques with which they are unfamiliar. Perhaps beyond any of those lessons, he illustrates that it is possible to find credibility and prestige as an artist by firmly refusing to seek glory.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Francesco Clemente
Interactive chart with Francesco Clemente's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Sandro ChiaSandro Chia
Pier Paolo PasoliniPier Paolo Pasolini
Jean RenoirJean Renoir

Friends

Jean-Michel BasquiatJean-Michel Basquiat
Alighiero BoettiAlighiero Boetti
Allen GinsbergAllen Ginsberg
Andy WarholAndy Warhol

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
MinimalismMinimalism
Neo-DadaNeo-Dada
SurrealismSurrealism
Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente
Years Worked: 1971 - present

Artists

Nicola De MariaNicola De Maria
Fred TomaselliFred Tomaselli

Friends

Enzo CucchiEnzo Cucchi

Movements

Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

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Content compiled and written by Tom Head

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Useful Resources on Francesco Clemente

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Clemente

By Rainer Crone and Georgia Marsh

Francesco Clemente: A Portrait

By Rene Ricard

Francesco Clemente: Between Citation and Satire Recomended resource

By James Cahill

Clemente: A Retrospective Recomended resource

By Lisa Dennison

Francesco Clemente: Between Silence and Knowing

By Becky Elmquist
Muse Magazine

Sitting for Francesco Clemente

By Wendy Goodman
Vulture
November 24, 2015

Art from a Sojourn or Two to India: Francesco Clemente Retrospective at Rubin Museum

By Karen Rosenberg
New York Times
September 4, 2014

Alba Clemente Interview: A Life on Canvas Recomended resource

By Lydia Slater
The Telegraph
April 1, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Francesco Clemente

transcripts

Francesco Clemente, Alchemist of Water Recomended resource

The Standard
September 10, 2015

Francesco Clemente with Alex Bacon Recomended resource

By Alex Bacon
The Brooklyn Rail
May 3, 2013

Francesco Clemente

By Caleb Neelon
Citizens of Humanity

Francesco Clemente: One of the Italian Big Three Recomended resource

By Edit Deak
Interview
April 1982

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