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Francesco Clemente Photo

Francesco Clemente

Italian Painter and Mixed-Media Artist

Born: March 23, 1952 - Naples, Italy
Movements and Styles:
"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."
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Francesco Clemente Signature
"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."
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Francesco Clemente Signature
"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."
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Francesco Clemente Signature
"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."
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Francesco Clemente Signature
"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."
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Francesco Clemente Signature

Summary of Francesco Clemente

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-20th-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.


  • 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."

Biography of Francesco Clemente

Francesco Clemente Photo

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.

Important Art by Francesco Clemente

Progression of Art

Map of What is Effortless

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.

Gouache on paper - Private Collection, Milan


Water and Wine

Against a backdrop of blue bricks, two nude figures interact with the standing corpse of a horned she-beast: a distressed man stands holding its severed head, while a more comfortable looking woman reclines underneath while suckling the beast's teat. A rope, tied as a harness around the beast's torso, dangles from the top of the frame. In the early 1980s, Clemente had incorporated Indian influences into his work and begun to become a fixture on the New York City art scene and his work began to more clearly incorporate themes of violence, sexuality, and other distortions. The unsettling juxtaposition of violence and relaxation, beauty and the grotesque in this work is not unusual among artists influenced by the Surrealist movement; what is perhaps more distinctive is the way it suggests that we are nourished by the bodies we kill, and even perhaps that there is no other way for survival among living creatures.

Gouache on paper - Art Gallery of New South Wales



The image is painted in oil with bold, violent, colorful strokes. A man who resembles Clemente seems to stare, mouth agape, at the viewer. There is something unsettling about the figure: his face is a hollow mask. Small, pale versions of himself sit inside his ear listening, inside his eye sockets watching, inside his nostrils sniffing, inside his mouth moaning a word. They are confined within him, but they define him; his real face, his real identity, is a facade. This is a visual representation of the second major existential crisis Clemente reported having in 1971, when he became aware that he has no self - that what he thinks of as his personal identity is a hollow mask, and that he does not know what fills it.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection


Self-Portrait with Black Gloves

A nude man, again with Clemente's features, and the distorted proportions of a homunculus, holds his head between the fingers of his two gloved hands. Eyebrows arched, he stares at the viewer. Behind him is the blank canvas itself, and nothing else. The painting is entirely in black and white. Clemente's gloves and genitals are the only detailed elements, the rest is set out in bold dark strokes. The painting doesn't necessarily convey anger, but there is an unmistakable note of aggression; his expression seems mocking or confused, and his nudity appears to be more exhibitionistic than vulnerable or sensual. His posture is indicative of a vague, self-directed threat, or of a necessary support to a vulnerable self - as if his hands were gun-like weapons. His use of the gloves suggests that some unknown means is preventing him from directly connecting to his own identity.

Colored chalks on paper - Private Collection



The canvas compresses the body of Clemente's wife, Alba, into an improbable reclining pose. Wearing an off-the-shoulder red dress, red flats, red lipstick, and a bulbous golf cuff bracelet, she gazes at the viewer with penetrating, somewhat dolorous brown eyes. Behind her is a backdrop of amorphous blue, giving the overall effect that she is floating in something like a petri dish. The connection between glamour and the unnatural social construction of beauty hints at the way in which our perception of such beauty is unavoidably warped, an illusion grounded in fantasy, and something that contorts and disfigures the earthly human form. Clemente would go on to paint many portraits in this somewhat claustrophobic, distorted style. The details of each portrait vary - some are standing, some seated, while he emphasizes different features and highlights the different clothing and accessories of his individual subjects.

Oil on canvas - Guggenheim, Bilbao


The Backpacker

In hues of red, blue, and gray, the figures of eighteen identical men in business suits (or as the title suggests eighteen frames of the same man in a business suit and backpack) walk along a beige platform, then down the side of it. Behind them, a rusty brown wall drips with grime. Whether we are looking at a crowd or a montage, it is the forward motion that allows the figures to demonstrate purpose within these bleak surroundings - just as our goals and aspirations, our own forward motion, allow us to transcend our own surroundings. There is a vitality and strength here in their relentless momentum. But it may be significant also that these figures, despite the purpose that forward motion can provide, must all march inevitably off the platform to the ground below and beyond the frame. While Clemente's recent work has not depended as much on a conceptual basis as his 1970s work, he has never entirely abandoned it; rather, he has incorporated it into a diverse and ever-growing aesthetic repertoire.

Pigment on Linen

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Francesco Clemente
Influenced by Artist
  • Sandro Chia
    Sandro Chia
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini
    Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • Jean Renoir
    Jean Renoir
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Nicola De Maria
    Nicola De Maria
  • Fred Tomaselli
    Fred Tomaselli
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Enzo Cucchi
    Enzo Cucchi
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Tom Head

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Francesco Clemente 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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First published on 11 Feb 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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