A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

Meeting Francesco Clemente, the Poet of Painters, at the Gate of Heaven

December 7, 2009

I have been collecting art books for many years now, and like other people who collect things, I get excited when I come across something that I find just absolutely wonderful.

A few years ago, when I was in London visiting a book store, I suddenly came face to face with books about Francesco Clemente. Now don’t mind me if I tell you, but I got a little bit too excited. I grabbed a book from the shelf and hurriedly flipped its pages, swallowing the images through my eyes right into my Francesco-starved artist soul. The fact is that I am just crazy about his work. I already had almost all the books about him that I could get my hands on. So now, there they were – a few other ones about Clemente and his art, which I had not seen before and did not own in my library. But still, looking at them all, my baby was the book Life is Paradise: The Portraits of Francesco Clemente, for I just love portraits. I have loved Francesco’s work for years and years and years. I have followed him to India and to New York. I love his work because I like poetry, and I think he is a poet of painters. His cloud-like shapes and forms float; they make you feel that if you try to grasp them, they will evaporate into mist. I love him because I am spiritual – a Buddhist – and his images tell me that he is here but at the same time not, as if he lives with the complete awareness that our human form can evaporate so easily, transferring our essence to another dimension.

So there I was, paying for the books and carrying them home like I was carrying a whole bunch of glass objects. When packing my suitcase, I thought, No, there is no away I would check-in these babies to go with the cargo. What if they get lost? What if they get damaged? What if they get stolen? No… I have to carry them all the way in the plane with me. The bag probably weighed over eight pounds, but I didn’t care. I let everything else get checked-in, but these books stayed close to me. Yes, that’s right. I dragged the package all the way to the Heathrow Airport, onto the plane, through the Bradley Airport, to the taxi, and finally when I got home, I was relieved. Finally, my Francesco Clemente books and I made it home safe and sound.

If when we die and lose our earth bodies and go to Heaven, I hope on the other side there is a special heaven just for the artists. A very special heaven full of wonderful colors and forms. If there is such a place, then I definitely want to put a special request to be sent to the artists’ heaven. I also want to put a special request that Francesco Clemente meets me at the gate of this heaven and takes me to show me around and show me his new work at his new residence and show me his latest portrait, which will most probably be the portrait of God Himself.

Below are two poems by Robert Creeley, inspired by Clemente’s paintings. They can be found in the book, Clemente, organized by Lisa Dennison.

Outside is empty.

Inside is a house
of various size.

Covered with skin
one lives within.

Women are told
to let world unfold.

Men, to take it,
make or break it.

All’s true
except for you.


The truth is in a container
of no size or situation.

It has nothing

Worship –
Worship. Sail away.

(Excerpt from Wikipedia.com)

Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian painter. His work shows both surrealist and expressionist references. Clemente was self taught and studied architecture in 1970 at the University of Rome. Following his studies he explored his psyche with the use of psychedelics and traveled to India to experience Hindu spirituality. Since 1982 he has spent his time between Italy, New York City and Madras (now Chennai) in India, where he collaborates with local artists. In 1986, he created the Hanuman Books series with Raymond Foye which is a collection of 48 miniature handmade books featuring American and European poets and philosophers, edited by George Scrivani and printed in Madras. He did some paintings in collaboration with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 1980s. Clemente is a member of American Academy of Arts and Letters. He still regularly works in India and lives in New York City with his wife Alba and their four children.

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Posted in Art Reviews, Book Reviews, Reviews |

One Response to “Meeting Francesco Clemente, the Poet of Painters, at the Gate of Heaven”

  1. Holly says:

    I stumbled across your blog post searching for Life Is Paradise. I had it in my hands many years ago at Clemente’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, but didn’t buy it! Something I regret, for it is such a wonderful book and he is simply an amazing artist. Thank you for sharing the Charlie Rose interview.

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