Somewhere between the physical and the spiritual, Francesco Clemente’s artwork lingers. The effect arrives in waves as his images traverse between figure and abstraction. Distilling references from Hinduism to craft and poetry, the layered works impress a feeling that is both dimensional and fascinating. A new retrospective of his art, Francesco Clemente: Pastels, opens this month at Lévy Gorvy gallery in London, and is centered around his pastel artworks from the 1970s to the present. Featuring many never-before-shown pieces, the show documents Clemente’s signature evocative vision and favored metaphysical themes. At the heart of the artist’s reflective practice is always the idea of connection. His visuals—whether pastels, paintings, or sculptures—are intended as a shared experience across time and space.
Clemente, a major figure of the ‘80s Italian Transavantgarde movement, was also a presence in the era’s downtown creative scene in New York. Memorably, more than 200 of his iconic drawings were the centerpiece of Alfonso Cuaròn’s 1998 film, Great Expectations. The artist—now based between New York, New Mexico, and India—culls worldly inspirations into an oeuvre that spans more than four decades. Here he speaks with CR about the creative duty of an artist, how painting unites physical and spiritual worlds, and what he considers the secret to the transformative power of art.
Part of New York’s legendary ‘80s creative scene, you collaborated with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. How have your experiences from this time continued to inform your art?
“Artists like Zurbaran or Beato Angelico, or William Blake—neither of whom I ever met—affect every minute of my way of seeing both art and life. I miss terribly the artists I met because we were good friends, but their work does not stop living and changing with the world around it.”
Women have long been a muse for your artwork. What is most fascinating about the human form?
“Landscape is human form, human form is landscape. I am an inveterate city dweller and, in the city, the only landscapes are bodies. Everyone is constantly changing, everyone is fundamentally beautiful and above all, everyone is, most of the time, invisible. A painter’s duty, a painter’s pleasure is to see. And seeing makes things and bodies visible.”
Your figurative pieces have a dreamlike quality that is both physical and mystical. How do you create between your subjects and your imagination?
“Painting is, among many things, also a nonlinear way of thinking. Painting easily reconciles opposites, for example, spiritual versus physical.”
You painted a series of model portraits of Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Liya Kebede, Iman, and Anna Ewers to show ageless beauty. How did you reveal your subjects?
“Our appearance is a fiction. By duplicating a fiction, the person, with another fiction, the portrait, painting may expose how ephemeral our state is.”
Your work has a strong New York resonance, including your mural inside the famous Palladium nightclub and a recent installation at Hudson Yards. How has the city inspired you as an artist?
“I delight in contradiction and paradox. So does New York.”
In what ways is your latest exhibition, Francesco Clemente: Pastels, a continuation of your body of artwork?
“My work does not proceed in a linear way. It resembles a weave. Threads continue uninterrupted but become visible only from time to time. The pastel exhibition, conceived by Dominique Levy and curated by Bill Katz, shows this continuity of discontinuity.”
You once said, “Fashion is the pursuit of perfection. Style is the acceptance of one’s flaws.” How have you cultivated both qualities as an artist?
“Perfection is even harder to accept than flaws. Neither perfection nor flaws can be cultivated, they can only be noticed and there can be a great deal of joy in the noticing.”
Francesco Clemente: Pastels is on view through February 15, 2020 at Lévy Gorvy in London.
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createdAt:Mon, 16 Dec 2019 17:50:46 +0000