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Artists Francesco Clemente

Francesco Clemente

Italian Painter and Mixed-Media Artist

Movement: Neo-Expressionism

Born: March 23, 1952 - Naples, Italy

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
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"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."

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

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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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 Chia
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Jean Renoir

Friends

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Alighiero Boetti
Allen Ginsberg
Andy Warhol

Movements

Abstract Expressionism
Conceptual Art
Minimalism
Neo-Dada
Surrealism
Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente
Years Worked: 1971 - present

Artists

Nicola De Maria
Fred Tomaselli

Friends

Enzo Cucchi

Movements

Neo-Expressionism



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Useful Resources on Francesco Clemente

Videos
Books
Websites
Articles
More
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

By James Cahill

Clemente: A Retrospective

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

By Lydia Slater
The Telegraph
April 1, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Francesco Clemente
transcripts
Francesco Clemente, Alchemist of Water

The Standard
September 10, 2015

Francesco Clemente with Alex Bacon

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

By Edit Deak
Interview
April 1982

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Tom Head

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tom Head
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism
Neo-Expressionism began as a movement in German art in the early 1960s with the emergence of Georg Baselitz. It gained momentum, and drew in painters from Germany and the United States - often bringing artists back to painting as a serious and contemporary medium for artistic exploration.
TheArtStory: Neo-Expressionism
Georg Baselitz
Georg Baselitz
Georg Baselitz
Georg Baselitz is a twentieth century German painter and sculptor, and was an originator of the Neo-Expressionist group "Neue Wilden," which focused on subject-based painting and the importance of color. Much of Baselitz's work is noted for its provocative subject matter, often sexual or overtly dark in nature.
TheArtStory: Georg Baselitz
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel
Julian Schnabel is an American painter, interior decorator and filmmaker. In addition to being a major figure in the Neo-Expressionist movement, he is most well-known as the director of such films as Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
TheArtStory: Julian Schnabel
Alighiero Boetti
Alighiero Boetti
Alighiero Boetti
Alighiero Boetti was an Italian conceptual artist, commonly associated with the Arte Povera movement. Much of Boetti's work was characterized by his notion of "twinning," denoting an inner dialectic between his two perceived selves (this idea led him to add an 'e' between his names, as in Alighiero and Boetti). Boetti worked in a variety of media, including plaster, masonite, plexiglass, embroidery, light fixtures and various industrial materials.
Alighiero Boetti
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American painter who rose to fame in the 1980s, and was the first African-American artist to gain international acclaim. His emotionally-charged paintings gave rise to graffiti art and the Neo-Expressionist movement, and are still considered among the most avant-garde artworks of the late twentieth century.
TheArtStory: Jean-Michel Basquiat
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
TheArtStory: Andy Warhol
Sandro Chia
Sandro Chia
Sandro Chia
Sandro Chia is an Italian painter and sculptor, and he was instrumental in the Neo-Expressionist-like artistic movement known as Transavantguardia. Chia's oil paintings, mosaics and sculpture all tend to combine key features of Synthetic Cubism, Neo-Primitivism and Fauvism.
Sandro Chia
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian film director, poet, writer and intellectual. Pasolini's political connections and beliefs made many of his works controversial during his time and now. However that did not and has not diminished his place as one of the major figures in Italian literature and film.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir was a French film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, and author. Son of the famous painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Renoir was a renowned artist in his own right; his movies, Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game are considered to be two of the best films ever made.
Jean Renoir
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and writer commonly associated with the mid-twentieth-century Beat poets. A compatriot of writers like Kerouac, Cassady and Burroughs, Ginsberg's most famous work is the 1956 poem "Howl," which he wrote while living in Berkeley, California.
Allen Ginsberg
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory: Conceptual Art
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory: Minimalism
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada refers to works of art from the 1950s that employ popular imagery and modern materials, often resulting in something absurd. Neo-Dada is both a continuation of the earlier Dada movement and an important precursor to Pop art. Some important Neo-Dada artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.
TheArtStory: Neo-Dada
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
TheArtStory: Surrealism
Nicola De Maria
Nicola De Maria
Nicola De Maria
Nicola De Maria was an Italian painter. De Maria was a member of the Italian Transavantgarde movement, however his work differs from the rest of the group and is focused on abstraction.
Nicola De Maria
Fred Tomaselli
Fred Tomaselli
Fred Tomaselli
Fred Tomaselli is an American artist known for his paintings on wood panels. Tomaselli uses unconventional materials (medicinal herbs, prescription pills, cutouts from magazines) suspended in resin to make his paintings. His works have been featured on many album covers.
Fred Tomaselli
Enzo Cucchi
Enzo Cucchi
Enzo Cucchi
Enzo Cucchi is an Italian painter, draughtsman, and sculptor, who was a key proponent of the late-twentieth-century Transavanguardia movement, the Italian counterpart to Neo-Expressionism. Characterized by bold colors and monumental scale, Penck’s work features largely symbolic and primal imagery, rendered in surreal, abstracted compositions.
Enzo Cucchi
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