Francesco Clemente, American (born Italy, active New York and India), born 1952


Gouache on twelve sheets of handmade Pondicherry paper, joined by cotton strips

Sheet (unfolded): 7 feet 9 1/2 inches × 8 feet 1/2 inches (237.5 × 245.1 cm)

© Francesco Clemente, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Partial and promised gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, 1991

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    In this large opaque watercolor drawing executed on conjoined sheets of handmade paper, certain artistic circumstances and strategies characteristic of the late twentieth century are folded into Francesco Clemente’s personal culture, which is as literary as it is visual. In him ancient mythographers and the occult meet beat poets, and the popular arts of India meld with the hip-hop culture of the 1980s. Born and educated in Italy, Clemente has long lived in New York and India. Globalization is one attribute underlying his work; another is the tendency to suppress the artist’s own hand in its making, as he collaborated with local billboard painters in Madras to produce this and other works created in India. Ann Percy, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 388.

  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The ritualistic and sensual imagery of ancient India and the living tradition of its centuries-old artistic techniques have inspired the Italian-born artist Francesco Clemente since his first visit to the country in 1973. One of a series of large-scale gouache paintings, Hunger was completed following the artist's extended stay in Madras in 1978 and 1979, when he became immersed in Indian philosophies and in the crafts of local artisans. Hunger uses the handmade paper produced in Pondicherry, a village south of Madras. Twelve individual pages are joined together to create the ground for this large-scale painting. Its format suggests a book taken apart and reassembled, and it also retains the delicacy and intimacy of Indian miniature painting. However, the artist has adapted the watercolor medium to an expansive scale to create a contemporary painting about the primal theme of desire.

    In Clemente's characteristically subtle marriage of Eastern and Western traditions, the snake consuming its own tail--an ancient symbol of eternity--assumes the shape of a vast circular form and stretches across the grid pattern made by the individual sheets of paper. Painterly and luminous, the blue, purple, and green wash creates a nonspecific, atmospheric landscape setting for the event depicted in the lower corner of the picture: a ravenous man making a meal of the creature, balancing a portion of the large snake in a ceramic bowl. His bared teeth draw blood, and his greedy expression reflects the insatiability of his appetite. The energy mobilized to consume the apparently endless snake, noticeable in the man's arms and grip as well as in his extended fingers, has toppled a glass of water. Its wasted, spilling contents suggest the limitations of gratification. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 132.