October 1999

Life is Paradise: The Portraits of Francesco Clemente by Vincent Katz
(powerHouse Books, 1999)

Review by Charles Gandee

People are talking about
A book of portraits by Francesco Clemente coincides with the opening this month of a major retrospective of the artist's work at the Guggenheim Museum.


Among that cadre of ambitious, then-young artists who catapulted to celebrity in New York in the precrash, go-go days of the eighties, Francesco Clemente is the only one who starred in an advertising campaign for Comme des Gar¨ons — serving as sad-eyed poster boy for Rei Kawakubo's spring/summer '89 collection.  It's a small, anecdotal detail, but like the fresco Clemente labored over for Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell at the Palladium nightclub in 1985, it's revealing — not only of that decade's fascination with artists such as Clemente and Julian Schnabel and David Salle and Eric Fischl and Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat but of those artists' determination to ascend to social, financial, and, occasionally, even sartorial prominence, to say goodbye to the starving-artist-in-the-garret clichˇ and hello to town houses in Greenwich Village and every ma”tre d' who matters in Manhattan.

Life is Paradise: The Portraits of Francesco Clemente (powerHouse Books) serves as a kind of figurative compass to the world Clemente hasn't merely traveled through but conquered since 1981.  In many ways, these portraits suggest that it's been a charmed journey, one on which Clemente has been accompanied by people with very familiar, and evocative, names:  Niarchos, Von Furstenberg, Picasso, Paltrow, Mehta, Lebowitz, Van Sant, Sottsass.

"One can wallow for days in these faces," writes Vincent Katz in his essay prefacing the 93 sometimes haunting, sometimes dreamlike watercolors, oils, pastels, and frescoes of models (Lauren Hutton, Christy Turlington) and movie stars (Minnie Driver, Robert De Niro), of pop stars (Bryan Ferry, Nick Rhodes) and poets (William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg), of royalty (Her Serene Highness the Princess Thurn and Taxis) and family (Alba and the children).