Francesco Clemente, Italian (1952 - )

Francesco Clemente

b. 1952, Naples, Italy
Francesco Clemente was born in Naples, Italy, in 1952, and since the 1970s, has produced a rich and complex body of work. His expressive portrayal of the human body and use of traditional materials departed radically from the Conceptualist aesthetic that dominated the late 1960s and 1970s. An inveterate traveler, Clemente has diversified his imagery, engaging a wide range of cultural traditions and stylistic sources through his travels to Italy, India, and New York, as well as the American Southwest and Caribbean.

Clemente moved to Rome in 1970 to study architecture during the social unrest that transformed Italy after 1968. His friends and mentors at this time included Alighiero Boetti and Luigi Ontani, as well as Joseph Beuys and Cy Twombly. Since 1973, Clemente has traveled to India each year, drawing inspiration from the country’s mystical heritage and contemporary arts. In 1980, at the Venice Biennale, the artist’s eclectic imagery commanded international attention and contributed to the international revival of Expressionism [more] at the time.

In 1981, Clemente moved to New York permanently, drawn to the city’s ethnic and cultural diversity. He rapidly expanded the scope of his work, producing his first large-scale oil paintings, and participated in numerous collaborative projects, creating a group of paintings with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and illuminating poetry by Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, John Wieners, among others. Throughout his career, Clemente has continuously produced a richly varied body of work, using such diverse mediums as oil, watercolor, ink, pastel, fresco, and sculpture interchangeably.

From 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. The following year, he collaborated with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat on a group of works. While Clemente was working on a large scale, he simultaneously developed various book projects, including three unique works created with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. In the 1980s, Clemente continued to travel to India; he also sojourned in southern Italy and the American Southwest. In the 1990s, he added Jamaica to his list of favorite spots and began working in a studio in New Mexico. He used a wax fresco method known as cera punica around this time. During a 1995 trip to Mount Abu in the Himalayas, Clemente painted a watercolor a day for fifty-one days in between taking walks and meditating.

Among Clemente’s less traditional undertakings have been murals for the now-demolished Palladium nightclub in New York (1985) and a mural and lampshades for New York’s Hudson hotel, which opened in 2000. In addition, he produced some two hundred works for director Alfonso Cuaròn’s film Great Expectations (1998). In 2008, Clemente further explored his interest in collaborating with performing arts projects when he exhibited portraits of eight stars in the concurrent season at the Metropolitan Opera in an exhibition entitled The Sopranos at the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met in New York.

Clemente’s art has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions. The first major American traveling show of his art was organized by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida (1986). Retrospectives have been organized by the Sezon Museum of Art in Tokyo (1994), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1999), Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2002–03), and Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin (2004). Clemente continues to divide his time between New York, Madras, and Rome.

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