Francesco Clemente has, since the 1980s, been a leading artist in the international revival of expressionist figure painting and sculpture. Clemente's subjects--rooted in both the physical and the surreal, spiritual worlds--create a vast body of work that appeals to diverse audiences. Clemente draws upon a pan-historic web of impulses, mediating among the myriad cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, Byzantium, Europe, India and America. Stylistically his work recalls the Italian Renaissance, Indian miniatures, European Romanticism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Clemente's widespread cultural interests and nomadic lifestyle--New York is his home but he spends part of each year in Italy, India and the New Mexico desert--have deeply affected his art. This lavishly produced catalogue accompanies the first major survey devoted to the painter.
This finely wrought, lush, 500-page volume does justice to the wide-ranging oeuvre of one of the most open-minded, ambitious, and productive artists of the late 20th century. The catalog of an exhibition at New York's Guggenheim Museum in the fall of 1999, it contains a wide range of writings, including Robert Creeley's haunting poetry, a thorough chronology, and half a dozen essays, including the introductory "Once You Begin the Journey You Never Return," by the Guggenheim's Lisa Dennison. In accordance with Clemente's paintings and drawings, the book touches on themes from Indian mysticism, prayer, the body's pores and orifices, family bonds, and a number of metaphysical and physical concerns, being and nothingness among them. In the essay "Rooms," Francesco Pellizzi draws a long thread through cave painting, Meister Eckhart's sermons on the soul, Renaissance Rome, and Clemente's wall paintings to arrive at "the transmodern sense of a shifting place of origin; every step, every station, is the first and last in this vortex, a maelstrom animated by an eros that is enveloping and inevitable but also, in the end, joyous...."
Clemente's art, which lays bare his obsessions with sex, self, and spirituality and explores them with a constantly surprising range of intense color and formal invention, stands in bracing, deeply pleasurable opposition to the desiccated, design-bound, theory-driven work that has dominated so much art of the last 25 years. Art historian James Elkins has described making graduate students copy, stroke for stroke, works by Monet and other painters, to give them a feel for "What Painting Is" (as he titled his recent book). Clemente raises the stakes a notch, demonstrating what painting might be, if we were to allow ourselves to be drenched in its myriad possibilities. --Peggy Moorman