Roses, hearts, bright flowers, animal spirits, clouds, centuries-old poetry, ethereal glimmering figures, tantric patterns, a bit of ancient history, and one heart-stopping self-portrait. Crimson, indigo, saffron, olive, earth, and eccentric mauve. These are the foundational elements in the affecting scenes of symbol, metaphor, and mystery that painter Francesco Clemente has manifested for decades.
Clemente’s first Los Angeles solo exhibition in nearly two decades has just opened in a Vito Schnabel Gallery pop-up in the vast Art Deco hall of the Old Santa Monica Post Office. Twenty Years of Painting: 2001-2021 happens to cover exactly those decades, with several significant series and some dynamic recent work represented across 30 canvases. Curated to highlight particularly resonant themes of love, loss, ritual, and spirituality, the installation feels deeply tethered to the present moment. It is a time of massive global cultural shifts, uncertainty, and danger, as well as evident returns to nature and the self-care of the soul, deconstructed power structures, gender rebalancing, and decolonization of history. It’s a lot. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, it contradicts itself and contains multitudes. But for the New York-based, Italian-born artist who began traveling to India in the 1970s, landed in New York in 1982, and has since split his time between all these places, as well as New Mexico, the paradox is the point.