Photographer, artist and teacher Antonio Clemente has recently returned from New York where he exhibited his work and stole a few life lessons along the way.
The softly spoken and delightfully humble high school teacher was approached by Agora Gallery in Chelsea, New York, so he deleted the email, deciding it was a scam.
“I thought it was a load of hogwash,” he laughed. “They emailed again and asked me to submit a portfolio so I did about two weeks of research on them; I did a lot of dummy calls and I got friends to call up to find out if they were for real. I decided they were, I submitted an electronic portfolio and it rolled from there.”
Agora Gallery is a fine art gallery located in the heart of New York City’s Chelsea art galleries district.
The gallery is famous for showcasing artists from around the world and around the corner, and the exhibition they invited Clemente to contribute to was called Out From Down Under and Beyond.
“There were people there exhibiting from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Russia and China. So beyond was quite beyond,” he laughed.
“The other artists had a mixture of paintings and photography. One artist from USA printed her work and it looked like lino prints but they were photos. They looked really cool and it was only her and I who sold work.”
Clemente’s work was praised by the gallery and guests because of his unusual and old fashioned way of layering prints to achieve a creative image.
“I jump in my car and drive way out into the bush and find old ruins and landscape. I take an enormous amount of photos, get them processed and then lay them out on my light box and layer them.”
“They’re slide film, so it’s chrome film. Then I use scissors to cut bits out. I use a viewfinder and layer up to three images. I’ve been doing this style for 15 years. It’s a tedious and stressful process but the labour that goes into it is why the gallery took my work,” Clemente said.
Although honoured Agora Gallery invited him to exhibit his work, Clemente said being in New York was the best part of the experience. He met incredible people, saw great things and learned a lot.
“I was totally excited but I’m not good at the whole ‘look at me’ thing. It makes me really uncomfortable. At the opening, at first I was really uncomfortable and Americans can be really in your face so I went outside and had some air and said Pull your head in and enjoy. Then I went back in and had a ball,” he said.
As well as rubbing shoulders with billionaires, chatting with artists and hiding from the limelight, Clemente happened upon a fellow Australian who was working in a store in New York.
“I was buying a pair of Volleys and this Australian asked where I was from and we chatted for about 40 minutes and he wrote a story about me. Turns out he’s the lead singer of Children Collide!”
Clemente comes back to Adelaide with new inspiration to combine painting and photography, and a renewed sense of adventure which grew from his incredible experience overseas, particularly with the people of New York.
“I met a girl from Dublin living in New York and she said ‘I want to teach you about what New York is about and I can do that really quickly’. She told me to visit the Irish pub she worked at in Hell’s Kitchen,” he said.
“Being a South Aussie, I felt a bit awkward walking into this pub not knowing anyone. It was packed. She waved me over and I was feeling really nervous but within half an hour, I was talking to a comic artist, an actor and a jazz singer and they were buying me drinks. At five in the morning, the Dublin girl came up to and said ‘This is what I wanted you to see. You’re never alone in New York’.”
Story by Libby Parker
Photo courtesy of Antonio Clemente