Blain|Southern have announced an exhibition of new works by Francesco Clemente, the artist’s first London show in seven years. This recent series titled , ‘Mandala for Crusoe’, brings together fourteen paintings developing Clemente’s singular pictorial language, gathering together myriad cultural references and merging timeless symbols, iconic imagery and philosophies. Inspired by the symbolism of the originally Buddhist and Hindu Mandala, this form, combined with allusions to more classical and mythological tropes, becomes a pertinent description of the world as a whole, now and throughout history.
Eastern spiritual traditions identify the mandala as a conduit to a deeper level of consciousness, allowing the meditator a sense of oneness with the cosmos. Conversely, at the centre of Clemente’s mandala is the empty, mundane life: a man smokes as he reads a newspaper, while another busies himself with digital technology. However, it is from this emptiness that a world of imagination arises. Indeed, the artist affirms the objectivity of the imagination not as sentimental fantasy, but as a function of the mind that leads to a harmony with both the self and others – a necessity for life. The group of exhibited paintings are thus Clemente’s tools; like Crusoe shipwrecked in isolation, he composes and narrates a belief in a common experience free of cultural divides or contemporary materialism.
Since the 1970s, Clemente has divided his time between New York and Varanasi in India, feeling a nomadic affinity with the contemplative visual tradition of both the East and West; while the roots of his painterly vision are in the frescoes of the Italian Renaissance, historical Indian imagery and the Romanticism of William Blake are equally pervasive. This is particularly evident in works such as Candy and Chloe at the gate (2012), which portrays a scene where the Warhol starlet, Candy Darling, performs alongside the modern-day actress Chloë Sevigny, and The ark (2012), where a chorus of animals from Noah’s ark sit atop an ancient Greek temple which floats upon a sea of Sanskrit text.
Clemente’s use of materials is equally heterogeneous; raw linen, milk paint, verdigris, silver pigment, mica, oil sticks and lithographic ink. A variety of painterly surfaces are formed mirroring his notion of the self as a fragmentary experience where the only constant is ‘the continuity of discontinuity’, which in itself reflects the principle of the Mandala: ‘what is not here is nowhere’.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with an essay by Sir Norman Rosenthal, who writes: ‘To analyse Francesco Clemente’s paintings is inevitably to look into the world of modern dreams and desires. But they are dreams that have a history and a culture both personal and general [that is] intentionally poetic.’
Francesco Clemente (b. 1952, Naples, Italy) is a renowned artist from the Neo-Expressionist movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s. From 1970 he studied architecture at the University of Rome, and began to exhibit his drawings, photographs and conceptual works in Europe. From 1973, he travelled regularly to India, and in 1981 he moved to New York. He collaborated with close friends, notably the poets Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, and reacting against a wave of anti-painting sentiment among critical circles, Clemente initiated a series of collaborative paintings with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Since the mid-1980s, Clemente’s work has been the subject of many international solo exhibitions, including; Nationalgalerie, Berlin (1984–5); Kunstmuseum Basel (1987); Philadelphia Museum of Art (1990); Royal Academy of Arts, London (1990); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1994–5); Guggenheim Museum, New York (1999–2000); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2004); Museo MAXXI, Rome (2006); Museum MADRE, Naples (2009); and more recently at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2011) and the Uffizi Gallery, Florence (2011). His works have also been included in notable group exhibitions including Documenta 7 in 1982 and the Venice Biennale in 1988 and 1995. Clemente is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.