“I believe that the most accurate description of our consciousness is continuity of discontinuity. So I indicate with my work the fact that we have a fragmented self and I’m interested in the gaps that separate all our different personas.”
For over five decades, Francesco Clemente has forged a singular career that seeks intercultural resonance, addressing the philosophical dualities of mind and body, freedom and constraint, and part and whole. In paintings, prints, frescoes, photography, book editions, and installations, he nurtures a signature poetic intensity, using metaphor and symbolism to consider the nature of the self. Dividing his time between New York and Varanasi, India, Clemente is inspired by the Tantra traditions of India and Tibet, Beat poetry, the ritualism of Joseph Beuys, and Greco-Roman art. His frequently collaborative practice has been linked to the Italian Transavanguardia group of the late 1970s as well as New York’s concurrent neo-expressionism. Clemente frequently turns to portraiture and has painted, among others, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Toni Morrison, and Jasper Johns.
Born in Naples, Italy, in 1952, Clemente studied architecture at the Sapienza University of Rome. Following his participation in the 1980 Venice Biennale, he was critically lauded as a leader of the “return to figuration.” In 1981, with his wife Alba, he relocated to downtown Manhattan, where he collaborated with such figures as Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, and Rene Ricard. He founded the imprint Hanuman Books with Raymond Foye in 1986, and in 1998, he created the portraits that were featured in Alfonso Cuarón’s film Great Expectations. Since he was nineteen, the artist has spent significant time in India, studying Sanskrit, literature, and collaborating with local artisans.
Major retrospectives of Clemente’s work have been organized by the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (1985–87), which traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Dallas Museum of Art; University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Centre Pompidou, Paris (1994); Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1994); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1999) that traveled to Guggenheim Bilbao; and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2011), among other venues. His work is featured in prominent museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Miami Art Museum; Kunstmuseum Basel; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2002, Clemente was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.