Bestiary 2020
03.09.2020 to 17.10.2020
Gallery - Brussels - Belgium

We proudly present Francesco Clemente's second solo exhibition with our gallery.

Bestiary 2020 is a group of fourteen paintings which Francesco Clemente created this year during lockdown, in days full of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety, days recorded in prominent lettering on each painting.

Traditionally a ‘bestiary’ is a compendium of beasts that became popular in the Middle Ages. Medieval bestiaries were rich in symbolism and allegory, so as to teach moral lessons and to entertain, rather than to convey knowledge of the natural world.

The beasts depicted in Clemente’s paintings refer explicitily to an iconographic tradition of the dark ages: the so-called ‘crickets’, fantastic monsters, composed by human heads and body parts connected to zoomorphic elements such as legs and tails. These were a popular aspect of Gothic iconography but originate in a variety of earlier cultures from Roman to Islamic.

Clemente has always been engaged with the notion of metamorphosis and with the liminal spaces separating the inner, spiritual world  from the outer, material world. 

Connecting today’s dates to Medieval ‘monsters’ is perhaps a way for Clemente to call our attention to the return of ‘unreason’ in this time of enhanced crisis. 

As it is often the case for Clemente, the monstrous, deformed and unnatural figures, with their seemingly ‘ funny’ appearance, are meant to manifest the unknown and make it less frightening. The disquieting images are rendered in tender and seductive colours as if to encourage us to familiarize ourselves with the absurdity of these grotesque and cruel times. 

Clemente’s work constantly reinvents and confirms itself. Bestiary 2020, of all the works Clemente has made over his forty years journey through the cultures of India, Italy and America is the work that more explicitily confirms the artist’s affinity with the famous quote of Terence: 'I am human and nothing human is alien to me’.

The title A Ford in the River refers to the fact that in 2018 Clemente attended the Kumbh Mela, a religious event consisting in the ritual collective crossing of a river.

The Kumbh is a ritual gathering in a tent city erected on banks of the Ganges and attended by sixty million people over a period of three months. At the Kumbh Mela Clemente painted a group of watercolors on handmade paper which are the basis for the five canvases which were then executed in New York. 

The five canvases are painted in vibrant hues, ranging from intense orange and yellow tones, reminiscent of the colors of dawn, to the most subtle and delicate mauves and pinks of the sky at dusk. These paintings remind one of the colors one sees only in India and confirm the artist’s status as one of the premier colorists of our times. Veiled by thin lines of dripping colors, contrasting lines mark the silhouettes of two figures, reduced to an essential outline, bold while made anbiguous by the fluidity of the color palette. 

The two figures in ‘A Ford in the River’ escape any clear categorization: they are neither clearly identifiable as man nor woman, nor do they belong to a race or an age range, they could even be images of the same person seen at different moments, memories of a self revisiting and interrogating a former or future self. 

One of the ways Francesco Clemente’s work has been described is as a practice aiming at the evaluation of the arcane, in its traditional sense: “In pre-industrial societies the arcane played a crucial role in enabling people to adapt to crisis.

It was the language by which people emerged from loss with a renewed sense of what was perceived as the sacred in life, where the sacred meant a collective treasure of the ways and the languages nature offers for survival.”

In a world dealing with a crisis, the intimate and sensual interaction of Clemente’s two figures, their concise rendering of human form and of human empathy, at rest in a pure realm of color, may be a reminder of the need to restore the healing power of the sense of the sacred. 

Clemente, born and raised in Italy, has lived and worked in India and New York since the early 1970’s and is considered a pioneer of a global artistic practice, connecting and contaminating themes and materials from India, Italy and America. 

His work has been shown in major museums such as the Guggenheim Museum, New York and in Bilbao; Museum of Modern Art, New York and Tate Modern, London. Clemente lives in Varanasi, India and in New York. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Our gallery has exceptional opening hours during Brussels Gallery Weekend.

Thursday 3 September from 11am to 9pm
Friday 4 September from 11am to 7pm 
Saturday 5 September from 11am to 7pm 
Sunday 6 September from 11am to 7pm