Italia • born in 1952

Biography and information

Francesco Clemente (23 March 1952, Naples, Italy) is an Italian artist working in the style of neo-expressionism.

Features of Francesco Clemente's art: the artist took an active part in the Italian transavantgarde movement of the 1980s, moving away from formalism towards figurativeness, symbolism and imagery. Francesco Clemente adored creative experiments; he was not limited to painting alone, using a variety of techniques in paintings and works – graphics and murals, mosaics and sculptures. The artist’s fascination with Indian culture and philosophical traditions is reflected in his paintings, which abound in the mystical and meditative images. Francesco Clemente collaborated with such artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, he created a series of illustrations for the works of the famous beatnik poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Along with Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, Clemente’s work was the impetus for the revival of world interest in the art of the European artists.

Famous works by the artist Francesco Clemente: “Water and Wine”, “Self-portrait with Black Gloves”, “Map of What Is Effortless”, a series of paintings “Fourteen Stations”.

The artist spent his childhood and youth in Naples, which Francesco lovingly called the “ancient Greek city”. At 18, he entered the University of Rome, where he studied architecture. There he met and made friends with the representatives of the Arte Povera movement, artists Luigi Ontani and Aligiero Boetti. The architecture was abandoned, Francesco became interested in painting and made it the meaning of his life.

In his early work, Francesco Clemente preferred to work on paper – the artist created ink drawings, the theme of which was dreams and childhood memories. Clemente’s first solo exhibition was held in 1971, in the newly opened Roman Galleria Giulia. Despite his friendship with the representatives of the “poor art”, the artist preferred more traditional techniques and presented his collage works to the public.

In 1973, together with a friend and mentor Aligiero Boetti, the artist first visited India. Clemente settled in Madras, acquired a studio and immersed himself in the study of religious and spiritual traditions, as well as folk art and crafts. Friends were carried away by the philosophical concepts of Buddhism, they were especially attracted to the doctrine of anatman, which denied the immutability of the soul and its isolation. The artist studied religious texts for two years in the local Theosophical Society library. Clemente subsequently repeatedly portrayed his personal interpretation of the concept of “not-self” in his paintings, as well as in self-portraits.

The artist’s fame grew; in 1980, Francesco Clemente took part in the Venice Biennale. Saturated with erotic images and distorted human figures, his works were interpreted by critics as a return to figurativeness, as a contrast to the abstractionist trends, which had dominated world art till then. In the European variant this direction was called transavantgarde, in the American — neo-expressionism. In the early 1980s, Clemente created a series of twelve paintings, which he called Fourteen Stations. In 1983, these works were shown in the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Francesco Clemente experimented a lot in painting techniques, worked with rare media, such as old handmade rag paper, collaborated with Indian miniature artists. The result was the Pinxit art series.

In 1982, Clemente moved to New York and settled in Greenwich Village with his wife, theatre actress Alba Primiceri. He quickly made acquaintances among American artists and in 1984 created a series of collaborations with the famous pop art master Andy Warhol and the rising star of street art, Jean-Michel Basquiat. In collaboration with the famous “hipster” poet Allen Ginsberg, the artist completed several unique illustrative projects.

The artist was constantly in creative search and never limited himself to a technology, subject or medium. Francesco Clemente used both oil and watercolour, graphics, his paintings are distinguished by bright colours, but he could easily use noir if the idea required it. The artist travelled a lot, to Afghanistan and Jamaica, to the south-west of America, where he acquired a workshop in New Mexico, hevoften returned to his childhood city of Naples and regularly came to India. In 1995, Francesco Clemente embarked on a trip to the Himalayas; during 51 days of trekking, he indulged in meditation and painting, each day he painted one watercolour.

The artist tried himself in the acting field, playing several episodic roles. For the film by Alfonso Cuarona, Great Expectations (1998), based on the eponymous work by Charles Dickens, Clemente painted more than 200 artworks.

In 1999—2000, the Guggenheim Museum showed its viewers a large retrospective of paintings and other works by Francesco Clemente. Major solo exhibitions of the artist were held at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (2002—2003) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin (2004). In 2008, Clemente took part in the Metropolitan Opera project, for which he created the portraits of eight “star singers”.

“I believe that there is such a thing as imagination, shared by various contemplative traditions. My goal is to collect images and references to these traditions and connect them with the emotions of today and general experience”, this is how Francesco Clemente himself described his artistic concept. Today, the artist lives and works in New York. Francesco Clemente's artworks are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Museum of Basel, and the London Tate Gallery.