Artist Francesco Clemente debuts at London’s Lévy Gorvy gallery

An exhibition focusing on 40 years of the Italian artist’s experiments with pastels – culminating in a collection that brims with beauty, spirituality and symbolism

Francesco Clemente’s Musica Da Camera IV, 1994
Francesco Clemente’s Musica Da Camera IV, 1994 | Image: Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio. Photograph: Tom Powel Imaging

Emerging art collectors can’t get enough of figurative painting, so it’s no surprise that pioneers of expressionist, painterly aesthetics such as Francesco Clemente are gaining traction once again. This month sees Clemente’s first show with Lévy Gorvy in London’s Mayfair (December 12 to February 15). The exhibition focuses on 40 years of his experiments with pastels, many of which are on display for the first time. This timely show comes before two major exhibitions by the artist next year – at the Albertina in Vienna in June and Moscow Museum of Modern Art in September.

The artist’s Self Portrait in White, Red and Black II, 2008
The artist’s Self Portrait in White, Red and Black II, 2008 | Image: Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio. Photograph: Tom Powel Imaging

Born in 1952, the Italian creative was a seriously hot name in the 1980s. The big breakout artist of the expressionist transavantgarde movement, his figurative paintings, drawings, frescoes and mosaics were an antidote to 1970s dry conceptualism. He was regarded as an Italian equivalent of Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. However, his greatest influence was his relationship to India and Hinduism, resulting in work brimming with beauty, spirituality and symbolism, rather than the grit and grime of urban New York. 

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The works on display in London, which start at $75,000, include pieces from his New York Muses series (1993) focusing on female faces, as well as portraits of his friend Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and a number of self portraits of the artist himself. This is work that balances the realism of the human body with myth, dreams and non-European cultural symbolism.

An Untitled piece from 1994
An Untitled piece from 1994 | Image: Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio. Photograph: Tom Powel Imaging

The soft, colourful and considered figures in this exhibition perfectly suit the fuzzy texture of pastels as a medium. The catalogue of the show is equally poetic, with text by writers such as Gregory Corso, Octavio Paz, Rene Ricard and Patti Smith – many of whom have collaborated with the artist in the past.

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