Remembering Italo Clemente

SARANAC LAKE – A profound love for art emanates from the late Italo Clemente’s work.

His partner, Brenda Hardin, describes him as a relentless artist who wasn’t passionate about the little things. That might explain why he experimented with so many different media and artistic stylings. To him, making art was all that mattered.

“He thought some painters were too concerned, too tense about their work,” Hardin said. “He didn’t see everything as a precious masterpiece.”

Hardin met the Italian-born artist about 40 years ago at a printmaking shop in New York City. Both were there to use the printing presses.

Hardin said Clemente would give things away, and he had the uncommon habit of painting on both sides of the canvas. That doesn’t sound too far removed from the boy who used to sketch in his textbooks, filling their white spaces with drawings.

Somewhere, scribbled between those blocks of text, an artist was born.

That artist transitioned to the larger, cleaner white space of canvas, upon which he used everything – pencils, ink, pastels, and acrylic and watercolor paints – to create cityscapes hidden in abstract geometric designs, women with soft rose-petal-colored cheeks and lonely rooms that somehow seem inviting to the viewer.

Hardin paused in front of a painting called “Woman Sitting in a Window.” It depicts a topless woman wearing a skirt, lounging in an open window. There’s a loneliness there that catches Hardin’s eye, and it pulls her in.

“To me, it’s so romantic,” Hardin said. “She’s wearing a skirt and no top, which no one would do, but she’s all alone, and the loneliness is that no one is going to pass by this window.”

The colors in many of Clemente’s paintings are rich and steeped in vibrant earth tones – deep auburns, lemon yellows and turquoise greens – that Hardin said reflects his Italian background. Others consist of perfectly executed, straight black lines and curves that soar between small ink blotches. Some contain hidden faces while others contain pink-skinned women in their lonely little rooms.

Many of Clemente’s pieces also contain mountains, so it’s no surprise the Adirondack Mountains inspired him to relocate from New York City to the hamlet of Childwold, in the town of Piercefield, in the early 1990s.

It was a long way from Manhattan, where Clemente worked as a maitre d’ in luxury hotels such as the Plaza, St. Regis and Barclay. He eventually opened the Omnia Art Gallery on 47th Street off Fifth Avenue, where he sold his art to buyers like jazz legend Charles Mingus and Adm. Neil McElroy, President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of defense.

Italo also opened a private skylight studio in the Union Square artist colony, and he showed his work in New York City at the Croquis and Di Mauro galleries.

Locally, Clemente showed his works at the “Y” Gallery, Paint and Palette Show and Adirondack Artists’ Guild in Saranac Lake, and at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. They are now on display at BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake.

Clemente died in 2010, but Hardin said his spirit, and his art, will live on.

“In some ways, it’s so sad that many artists are not appreciated until after they’re dead,” Hardin said. “I wish we had pursued his recognition more. It just takes time.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or