Francesco Clemente looks at his humanity in Vito Schnabel’s new outpost in Santa Monica

Francesco Clemente’s anthological overview exhibition “Twenty Years of Painting: 2001-2021” deals with a changing understanding of the world and of human consciousness. As the first exhibition at the Vito Schnabel Gallery in the Old Santa Monica Post Office, Clemente’s work explores his own mortality through a deep contemplation of physical existence. With portraits, symbols, landscapes and figurative motifs, he ponders the transience of life by addressing the incorruptibility of the momentary truth of time.

Clemente proves to be an articulate shapeshifter, malleable to move through an impressive range of media, including watercolor on paper, oil on canvas, and pigment on canvas. A clear highlight is the lush lemon-colored fresco Two Trees (2001). Shown is a before and after scene of an upright tree, which is then segmented and falls to the ground while paper is blown up. In direct conversation with old Italian frescoes such as the garden walls discovered in Pompeii and the fertility tree in Massa Marittima, Clemente ponders the ephemeral double standard of life and death.

Francesco Clemente, Two Trees, 2001. © Francesco Clemente. With kind permission of the artist and the Vito Schnabel Gallery.

The artist’s self-portrait with a ring of light, Summer Self IV (2011), which is thoughtfully installed in the gallery to capture the changing colors of the sunlight during the course of the day, is exquisitely reproduced. Clemente embraces the self-portrait as a memento mori to once again articulate a transitory nature of being. Adapted to the patterns of the seasons and the biological effects of light on the human body, his analysis can also be seen in Clouds IV (2018). The painting is complex in its absolute simplicity and evokes constant movement and levitation between heaven and earth.

Throughout his career, Italian-born Clemente maintains an unwavering compassion for the human spirit and an inquiring sense of open wonder. As shown in this show, the movements of his creative output reflect the wisdom that comes from looking deeply into a subject. For Clemente, thinking about the volatility of life has given the artist and his philosophical work a tolerance of uncertainty and a belief in epistemic humility.

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