Interspersed amongst this ravishing collection of surprising portraits are several of Clementes more well known self-portraits, in various mediums, which have become signature pieces for the artist. But its the compelling portraitures of a widely divergent circle--artists, writers, film actors, fashion industry icons, business and society headliners, done by Clemente for amusement or for special commissions--that offer a fascinating insight into another side of Francesco Clemente: the internationally famous artist who for years has been a fixture on the New York scene.
For almost two decades, Clemente has divided his time between New York, Italy, and Madras, India, and his art readily acknowledges the influence of these cultures. Clemente is widely considered one of the foremost contemporary artists in America, and his work is celebrated in art collections all over the world. The portraits in Life is Paradise span Clementes entire career as a visual artist, and showcase his versatility with various mediums. This collection gathers together and examines for the first time in detail a little known element of Clemente's oeuvre.
Lavishly produced and designed (with one egregious exception: in a series of watercolors the face of the subject falls within the "gutter," or centerfold, of the book, making it absolutely impossible to see), Life Is Paradise is divided into thematic chapters. Some rubrics--"Poets," "Oil on Wood," "Great Expectations," "Children," "Devi," "New York Muses," "Voices"--are literal: Robert Creeley and the late Allen Ginsberg are in the "Poets" section, for example. However, some are more wide-ranging: the watercolors include a vast selection of famous faces (as well as more poets, like John Ashbery). And the number of celebrities is staggering: Anne Bancroft, Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Morrison, Fran Lebowitz, Philip Glass, and dozens of others. But it is the art that mesmerizes the reader. Some of Clemente's portraits are phenomenally precise and delicate; some are violent, dark, and wild; the eyes are always dominant; but all are "done" differently, seen differently, presented differently--masklike on one page, psychologically engaging on the next. Clemente's inventiveness--and this book represents only a small part of his vast output--can leave a reader breathless, wondering how many ways there are to approach the combination of a human countenance and a blank page. --Peggy Moorman