Francesco Clemente

A Permanent State of Flux

Ahead of his upcoming exhibition in Sydney, VAULT chats with Francesco Clemente, the elusive Italian Neo‑Expressionist whose hallucinatory, colour‑drenched paintings are an ode to the fragmented self.

By John Thomson AUG 2016

Sydney’s Carriageworks brings Francesco Clemente's Encampment to Sydney in late July. The exhibition captures the nomadic, transitory nature of contemporary life and suggests that life may have always been this way. A series of colourful tents, embroidered and silkscreened by craftspeople in Jodipur, India, display, on their insides, Clemente’s sensual, symbolic paintings. The exhibition also includes a series of erotic watercolours, and sculptures of found objects from India sitting atop rickety scaffolding.

Clemente is famous for his portraits and allegorical scenes in both oil and watercolour. He came to prominence in the 1980s with a group of young Italian figurative painters known as the Transavantgarde. The critic Achille Bonito Oliva, who coined the term, saw them mining art history to create “adventures laced with irony and subtle detachment”. It’s a description that doesn’t seem to fit Clemente’s intense and passionate paintings too well, although he has said: “it's important to me to have an understated humour.” It’s better not to take his work, or his words for that matter, at face value.

As his star rose, Clemente moved to New York City from his native Italy and became a high-profile figure on the city’s art scene, collaborating with artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and with writers and poets including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Over the decades, he has painted many portraits – with their signature windows-of–the-soul eyes – of the famous, of himself, and of his wife, Alba.

Contrasting with his life in the States has been a life in India. He’s said that when he first visited the country as a 19-year-old, he had... Subscribe to read this article in full

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Bendigo Art Gallery MCA Roslyn Oxley Gallery AGSA Art Gallery of New South WalesGovett Brewster