The works are inspired by the reading of Federico García Lorca’s seminal collection of poems “Poet in New York” – and especially of the poem “El Rey De Harlem” or “The King of Harlem” – written by the Spanish author while living in New York in 1929-1930.
As a young artist, Francesco Clemente visited New York in 1980, setting up a studio on Lower Broadway two years later. At a crucial time of great creativity and cross-fertilization in the arts, Clemente quickly became part of the city’s lively art scene, befriending musicians, poets, writers and visual artists, from Allen Ginsberg to John Lurie, from Keith Haring to Brice Marden. Jean- Michel Basquiat, with whom he made collaborative works together with Andy Warhol, introduced him to the restaurants and nightclubs in Harlem.
At 31 years of age, already known in his home country as a politically active, avant-garde poet, Garcia Lorca arrived in New York in the summer of 1929, in time to witness the collapse of the stock market that sent the city into a tailspin. Wandering the city, Lorca was particularly struck by Harlem, which was a bustling cultural center, home to two thirds of New York City’s African- American population. The poet came in contact with the neighborhood’s creative energy and its thriving music scene, where he heard spirituals and Jazz. It was a period of literary and artistic expression as well as of hardship and poverty that reminded Lorca of his own Spanish heritage and helped him relate to the pain and turmoil experienced by the Harlem community in those volatile times.
In the paintings exhibited in the gallery Clemente focuses on the narrative of “The King of Harlem”, reflecting the sorrow, joy, music, and vitality described in the poem.
Lorca’s surreal imagery perfectly matches the artist’s imagination and the themes that have made his work wildly renown.
These have been described, in the words of curator Raymond Foyer as: “connections and cross- references between autobiographical analysis, mutating self-portraits, erotic fantasies and fears, combined with a fascination for metaphysical systems (Christianity, Alchemy, Astrology, Mythology, The Tarot) all overlayed with a re-interpretation of various artistic sources (Ancient, Renaissance, Surrealist, Hindu, Expressionist)”.
The resulting works are an engaging tribute to poetry and a unique ode to the city of New York, where Clemente has lived for over 35 years.