Francesco Clemente

Schermata 2014-12-19 a 03.15.08

Rich in evocations and references that traverse eras and cultures, in the choice of subjects as of techniques, the work of Francesco Clemente (Naples, 1952) is defined internationally as a point of reference in the history of contemporary art. Born in Naples, where he began to paint, selftaught, in the early 70s Clemente moved to Rome, where he made friends and contacts with some of the greatest artists of the late 20th Century: from Cy Twombly to Joseph Beuys, Luigi Ontani and Alighiero Boetti (with whom he traversed Afghanistan on foot in 1974). At this time the dimension of the journey acquired a crucial role in his poetic, becoming an occasion for the physical, cultural and spiritual traversal of realities near and far, in time and space, each capable of contributing in its own way to the artist’s aesthetic articulation.
In 1979 Achille Bonito Oliva placed him among the protagonists of the Transavanguardia, which insisted on a return to the manual skills of artistic practice and the materiality of the work after the season of Conceptualism, from the late 60s on, which had also partly permeated his early work.
At the height of the postmodern climate, characterized by eclecticism and quotations, Clemente undertook a personal journey which combined experiences and knowledge gained from his travels and cultural interests: making use of different techniques, often derived from ancient traditions (such as drawing, engraving, tempera, encaustic, fresco and mosaic), he combined signs and symbols, exploring topics such as sex and dreams. His works appeared layered and dense in content, surfaces where past and present, East and West, classicism and modernity, religion and myth meet in an original syncretism of representation.

As in many of his works, in the paintings of the series Place of Power, 1989 – two of which (Place 0f Power I and Place of Power III) were donated to Madre museum by the artist in 2009, on the occasion of his retrospective exhibition – exotic references create a dialogue with quotations related to the Campania region. His first inspiration was a visit to the burial chambers of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt late in 1986, which the artist recalls as the experience which made the strongest visual impact on him since he first saw Velazquez when eight years old.
His fascination with ancient murals and the stylization of the figures is translated into encounters between geometric and ornamental elements through which the artist creates semiabstract forms, in an interplay of overlapping planes and colors. The only clearly recognizable element is a candelabrum, which is centrally located in Place 0f Power I: this alludes to the candelabra that adorned the frescoes of the Augustan villa of Agrippa Postumus in Boscotrecase, near Pompeii, destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and rediscovered in the early 20th Century. The original fresco, characterized by what is termed the third Pompeian or “candelabra” style and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, becomes an allusion capable of relating his native land and adopted home, the United States, where Clemente has spent long periods.
Clemente is also present in the museum’s site-specific collection on the first floor with Ave Ovo, an intervention articulated as a fresco of monumental proportions and a ceramic floor which renews the tradition of the ancient majolica floors of Campania.