Francesco Clemente on Charlie Rose– Aristocratic Roots Not Enough

August 22, 2008

He’s traveled widely and made friends with many of the greats. He’s a gentle soul, and he’s spent his life searching. With a man who has accomplished the life that Clemente has, it’s hard to find the justification, never mind the heart, to criticize too harshly. But goodness gracious sakes alive, I am not impressed with his work. He wouldn’t be with mine either, I’ll bet a dollar.

Self Portrait — woodcut, 1989, Francesco Clemente

Just the same, his interview on Charlie Rose is very good. He talked about being grateful for the opportunity to create his own narrative (Charlie provides this opportunity for his guests over and over again for decades), and by embracing the light and the shadow in his work, we see how easily the painting becomes metaphor…should become metaphor.

During a discussion about Andy Warhol–a significant figure in Clemente’s life–Clemente said that color is the important quality in Warhol’s work. huh? color???? …weird. sure, there’s color in Warhol’s work, but I can’t imagine seeing it as a defining feature.

Not everyone born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth turns out to be a pretentious bore. Clemente seems so nice, so relaxed with everything on the surface; but I found it hard to trust that surface. He has worked hard, or so he infers, to make himself vulnerable… but I wonder how someone who has never had to worry about the roof over his or her head can be truly vulnerable. And staying up all night to paint a mural does not quite make you a laborer.

However, there are many kinds of vulnerability. We see a genuineness, (dare I use the word “authenticity?”) (no, someone would shoot me) as he makes himself available and shows some vulnerability during this interview. In discussing what sorts of things he fears in life, Charie asked him if he feared the loss of his talent. Clemente reframed, to say he might fear not being able to do the work– “I wouldn’t call it talent, I would call it my language, the privilege of being able to tell my story.” Perhaps he recognizes his own deficiencies? or is it a pseudo-humility.

Dialogue — oil on canvas, 2001, Clemente

Given that he has played on the world’s stage for a considerable time now, it would be useful to say what qualities do emerge in Clemente’s work. I see a certain preciousness, that unless it is couched in the ironic is too much. it is hard to say now, being in a time of irony on steroids. the gentle wry humor may be getting lost as we project our post 911 hopelessness on to all creative work.

We want to take this artist as seriously as he takes himself. Clemente is a bit cryptic. He’s at once fresh out of the 60’s, a searcher who went to India, Japan, came here, and has gone beyond. I was not completely familiar with his work before this broadcast, so maybe I am jumping to judgment too quickly. But he vies with Cy Twombly for last place in talent? skill? on my list of the well-knowns. This is hard to talk about.

Poems to the Sea — oil, crayon, pastel colored pencil on paper, 1959, Cy Twombly

I feel like I’m being duped when I stand in front of a work like this in a museum. So it could be my own paranoia that prevents me from going to a deeper level with it.

Was Charlie more interesting than his guest? He spelled out what is hoped that artists will do, and that is, to capture the idea of a narrative that we all understand.

A recent self portrait by Clemente shows a partial skeletal view of the artist. Meaning: vulnerability is “the ideal state of the artist.”


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