Francesco Clemente, ”4-13-2020,” Watercolor on paper.
Photo: Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy

Francesco Clemente’s New Watercolors Offer a Seaside Escape During Quarantine

Working from his Greenwich Village townhouse, the artist’s lyrical works conjure memories of sandy shores
Francesco Clemente. Photo: Courtesy of the Guggenheim Bilbao

Francesco Clemente, the Naples-born, longtime New Yorker, is known for his poetic paintings that sit somewhere between the physical and the spiritual. Filled with curiosity and passion for different cultures, he usually divides his time between New York, New Mexico, and India, drawing inspiration from the rich histories of each, as well as that of his native Italy.

Now confined to his home on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, Clemente has created a new series of dreamy watercolors that conjure childhood memories of the seashore with shells and toys scattered along the sand. In a nod to Japanese ukiyo-e prints, each work is stamped with the date in what is a poignant reminder of this unique period of history. Twelve of these works are now on view in an online exhibition titled “Beauty Without Witness” at Lévy Gorvy through May 29. Below, the artist shares how he is staying creative and inspired at home, and what he most looks forward to when this period ends.

Francesco Clemente’s home studio at MacDouagal Street, New York, May 4. Photo: Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio and Lévy Gorvy

On his home studio 

“I have made many works isolated in some generic room of some generic provincial Indian town. I need two tables—on one I make the work, on the other I look at it. I am doing the same at home now.”

Francesco Clemente, 4-12-2020.  Photo: Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy

On the inspiration for the new series 

“I always traveled to make work. Now I work to travel. I am painting an imaginary seashore–on it are stranded sea shells and broken toys, remains of natural and cultural failures. There is no sadness, only relentless stillness and spaciousness.”

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Francesco Clemente, 4-15-2020.  Photo: Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy

On staying creative 

“I am used to generating a scorched-ground state of mind. Joy arises from it sometimes. Painting is a sign of joy. Now I do not have to imagine the suffering as the suffering is happening next door. At first, I could not work at all for 40 days.”

Francesco Clemente, 4-22-2020.  Photo: Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy

On passing the time 

“I believe in gesture and form, and I have learned many prayers, visualizations, and ritual gestures during my long life. So yes, I will always watch a film about unrequited love by Pedro Almodóvar or Wong Kar-wai, but I pray too.”

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Francesco Clemente, 4-23-2020,  Photo: Courtesy of Lévy Gorvy

When the city reopens 

“I am looking forward to being able to sit at home doing nothing as a choice and not as a necessity.” 

“Beauty Without Witness, April 2020” is on view at Lévy Gorvy through May 29 and is part of an ongoing series of online presentations that will benefit #FirstRespondersFirst. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Clemente’s work will be donated to the cause.

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