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Part–whole theory

“I have always thought of act on of my works as if they were the only work I would ever do: a total constellation of objects that had to suggest the idea that hey come from another place; as if they had been dug up from under the earth, from a forgotten place. This is the way I feel, that I approach my work. It is very difficult for me to think only of a single object. An object is a fragment of a more complicated discourse. There are other fragments and one story or another can be images from these fragments, but basically it is not important which one it is.”

Francesco Clemente in Danilo Eccher, Francesco Clemente, 1999.


“My overall strategy or view as an artist is to accept fragmentation, and o se what comes from it - if anything… Technically, this means I do not arragene the mediums and images I work with in any hierarchy of value. One is as good as another for me. All the images have the same expressive weight, and I have no preferred medium.”

Francesco Clemente in Donald Kuspit, Clemente explores Clemente - Contemporanea (New York) 2, no. 7, Oct 1989.

Eros, imagination, mutability

"The cultural multiformity of India led Clemente to accept fragmentation and stylistic diversity in art, in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural hegemony of the West. By abandoning the traditional hierarchical ordering of experience, Clemente was seeking a more open form that was able to accommodate the influx of the new factors brought to the fore in India: eros, the psychic imagination, the mutability of meanings."

Ann Percy and Raymond Foye, Francesco Clemente: Three worlds, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990.


"In fact, the 1980s witnessed an influx of art from Europe, as Americans discovered the vanguard art was no longer an exclusively American affair. [...] In the eighties, however, exhibitions and sales of Arte Povera works, those by Beuys, and younger Neo-Expressionist German painters and British sculptors, along with work by the new Italian painters known as Transavanguardia, brought European art to the forefront of American consciousness for the first time since World War II. This new internationalism was signaled by a number of exhibitions in the early eighties that also focused on the revival of painting: “A New Spirit of Painting” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (1981); “Zeitgeist” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (1982); and “The New Art” at the Tate Gallery, London (1983). These were just some of the shows that spotlighted young painters such as Schnabel, along with several of his American peers, among them David Salle, Eric Fischl, Susan Rothemberg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Robert Longo - alongside the European painters Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, Markus Lupertz, Jorg Immendorff, Gerhard Richter and A.R. Penck. The work of this group was often characterized as Neo-Expressionism, thought like all appellations, the label never adequately described the art or the artists’ intentions. Nevertheless, these artists did have certain characteristics in common: they embraced expression and sentiment to create art of excess, one that was emotionally and physically charged."

Lisa Phillips, The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000 (Part II), Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999.

Magiciens de la Terre

"As the world economy becomes increasingly globalized and core and periphery are redistributed across old boundaries, this process can only accelerate and become more elaborate. The old barriers between ‘Western’ ar and ‘Third world’ art (once known, symptomatically as ‘primitive’ art) will dissolve even further - in both directions. Thus artists as diverse as Jean-Michel Basquiat or Audrey Flack or Francisco [Francesco, Ed.] Clemente or Chieri Samba can be seen not in simple terms of identity and difference but as part of a dynamic system of aesthetic circulation."

Peter Wollen, Raiding the Icebox, Reflections on Twentieth Century Culture, 1993.

The art market

“When I started to buy Contemporary photography, very few were interested in this particular field. We are talking about the Eighties, and people were lining up in the front of the galleries to buy Salle, Bleckner, Clemente, and other artists, who all sold out before the show opened, at tremendous prices. So, out of frustration, I started to look elsewhere and discovered that young artists were doing interesting work with photography, using the medium in a way close to painting, by removing this ‘tool’ from its documentary past”

Baroness Marion Lambert, in Adam Lindemann, Collecting Contemporary Art, 2010.


"During an extended stay in India in 1977, Clemente’s home was the Theosophical Society in Madras. The time he spent in the society’s compound overlooking the Bay of Bengal, its garden harboring the oldest and largest banyan tree in india and its vast library filled with esoteric and occult literature, had a formative influence on the artist. [...] Clemente’s attraction to India extended beyond its mystical heritage to the contemporary arts of Madras and Bombay, including the cheap and gaudy products that advertise its popular culture to the masses: movie billboards, statuary and relics, souvenir books sold at temples and shrines, and Hindu comic books. Over time, he found great stimulation in collaborating with local artisans and craftspeople on the making of his art."

Lisa Dennison in Clemente, Guggenheim Museum, 1999/2000.


"In Clemente’s work the orifices of the flesh are receptors through which is channeled into personalized existence, points of high tension where interaction with the world takes place, and they are the domain of direct negotiation."

Edit deAk, A Chameleon in a State of Grace, in Artforum 19, no. 6, 1981.

“All my early works revolve around the image of holes in the body. There are nine, there are ten, there are five million pores; transmuting between human and animal or between male and female. Images are coupled, doubled, or split in two. Ruptures, and sometimes bullet holes, and yet more apertures. The bodily cavities are themselves filled with smaller heads, creating an infinity of reflections.”

Francesco Clemente in Danilo Eccher, Francesco Clemente, 1999.

Indian gigantic cinema billboards

"Clemente’s intellect may have been charged by the classical Indian tradition, but his painter’s eye was drawn in the bright and florid imagery proliferating in the bazaars of Madras. He saw the continuity and fragmentation of Indian tradition in the gigantic cinema billboards, staring fixedly at the onlooker from all directions, with their simplified, almost emblematic, renderings of eyes, ears, noses, and lips, imagery that virtually underlines the notion of senses."

Jyotindra Jain, in Clemente, Guggenheim Museum, 1999/2000.


"Francesco Clemente works through repetition and shifting. He sets out with a pre-existent image which he reproduces in painting. However, every successive reproduction is altered and moves away from that which is being reproduced according to variations as subtle as they are unpredictable. An expected certainty is at the basis of the work, which in being affected implies a swerve away from the initial norm. This shifting occurs through oblique lines, a tangible sign of the production of difference."

Achille Bonito Oliva, The Italian Trans-Avantgarde, in Flash Art n°92-93, 1979.

“It wasn’t really a movement. I think, actually, that whole generation of artists lacked a proper theoretical background and no one really bothered with that. So there were a few labels, you know, the neo-expressionist, the transavantgarde… but all of these were only labels. It was more of a synchronicity of several people in different parts of the world going back to making art drawn from life and not from other art.”

Francesco Clemente, in Elena Cué, Interview with Francesco Clemente, www.alejandradeargos.com, 03/10/2016.

Emmental - Pac-Man

"Most games were about annihilation [at the time Pac-Man was released, 1980]. Most games were World War-themed or aggressive games. Here was a game that was none of those things. There was no weapon to fire. It was: Outrun your pursuers until you are of sufficient strength that you can then chase them. And what it really wound up doing was it changed the social dialogue around arcades. Now, for the first time, you had women in arcades, and you had kids–both boys and girls–in these arcades that were typically full of older teens and adult males. It fundamentally changed the dialogue and the social contract that arcades had made. It made it more permissible for everyone to be included in arcade culture."

Christine Champagne, How “Pac-Man” Changed Games And Culture, in Fast Company, 22/05/2013.

The tie, yellow and narrow like a brush stroke illuminates the scene from the right-hand side of the composition. It is a fashionable accessory, worn at the time by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Wharol, who in 1982 paints a triple portrait of Clemente wearing a suit and tie. Mapplethorpe will portray the same features just a few years later.


Il mio corpo è rosso per formaggio sounds like the title of an unwritten narration, inspired by the author’s biography and self-parodic in tone. The two telephones on the left-hand side might symbolise the internationalism of which Clemente is a great example. A frequent traveler, his attitude is that of Bruce Chatwin, the great travel writer of In Patagonia, which was published in the same years.


With regard to the elements on the left temple and on the chest of the figure, they seem to relate to the idea of ​​fragmentation of reality the author has often spoken about over the years. There is no hierarchy, and therefore there is no order to follow. Each element is worth in itself, and so is every relationship between them. The skiing elephant, the double hook that perhaps was used to catch the fish, the scissors, the pacifiers, the two crosses, the heart on the skate, the mouth with the inscription X12, the lightning with the wheels, the two symmetrical comic figures facing each other: those are the hints provided by Francesco Clemente. It is up to the viewers to weave the narrative in the framework that the author has set for them with a poetic rather than didactic approach. The figure of the traveler differs from that of the tourist. Clemente’s painting is an invitation to interpretation rather than a puzzle to be solved.


The compositional structure of Il mio corpo è rosso per formaggio reminds of the great Bollywood cinema posters, often hand painted by specialised genre artists and recognised by critics as one of Clemente’s visual sources at the time.


Self-portraiture has become a trope for Clemente as it had before for his friend Alighiero Boetti, whom he joins in Afghanistan in 1974 on a journey that marks an era. In Il mio corpo è rosso per formaggio Clemente paints himself as the ultimate protagonist. A trickle of blood, or a residue of food spots the left side of his lips. His eyes look contemptuously at a vanishing point outside the canvas.