From the Catalogue: Francesco Clemente

Francesco Clemente, born in Naples in 1952, lives and works in New York, Rome, and in India. Alongside Chia, Cucchi, and Paladino, he is considered one of the exponents of the Italian “Transavanguardia,” although he himself is not fond of being associated with specific art movements. In 1970 he began to study architecture in Rome, although he did not complete his studies. Already in 1971 he has his first one-man show at Galleria Valle Giulia in Rome. Shortly afterwards he traveled to India and Afghanistan for the first time, together with the artist Alighiero Boetti, amongst others. 

In 1981 Clemente emigrates to New York, where he quickly makes friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and other major figures of the art scene. In the 1980s he begins to work in increasingly large formats in oil, and also experiments with other media and techniques. His work is strongly influenced by various foreign cultures, especially that of India. Spirituality, various religions, symbolic self-portraits, and an examination of his own position in the world, are fundamental themes and points of interest in his art. His pictorial language corresponds fully with his imagination and influences from the Far East. “My work runs through iconography. It doesn‘t promote one iconography over another. I carry inside me the idea that it‘s better to be many than one, that many gods are better than just one god, many truths are better than one alone.” (cit.: F. Clemente in: Francesco Clemente, Exh. Cat., Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast, 1984). 

This work is a fine example of these influences and cultures, with their multi-layered figures and motifs. Stupa brings to mind the works of Hieronymus Bosch, with their scenes and figures which both fascinate and frighten. With Clemente’s works, fabulous creatures and figures can also be discerned, some clearer or more detailed than others, but yet more human than with Bosch. The lower figure is somewhat sketched and appears to have his arms raised, while on the second canvas the faces are painted clearly and in detail and are seen to gaze upwards. Towards the top, the figures are again only hinted at, and at the very top only a head can be seen, almost a skull, without any developed features. These very different types of forms leave the interpretation of this work quite open. The “Stupa” is a Buddhist monument, which is a symbol of Buddha and his teachings. Typical for these shrines is that they taper upwards, which is reflected in the tapered canvases of our painting.

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