It's not just that smile which begins at the eyes and works downward that gives away Clement Renzi's spirit. It also shows up in his sculptures, which convey a joy, contentment and inner peace that contrasts with the anguish of so much modern art in our stress-filled world.
"I am not a disturbed personality," said the 63-year-old sculptor, whose work is a featured attraction at the Fresno Art Museum this month. "I'm basically a tranquil person."
The Art Museum has honored Renzi with a retrospective of his work from the past 25 years. "Clement Renzi: The Fresno Years" takes up the entire lobby and much of the hallway at the gallery.
The exhibit's title is an ironic one for Renzi, for he never expected to be a successful Fresno artist when he and his family (wife Dorothy and young daughter Jennifer) moved back to the San Joaquin Valley from New York in 1963.
"We decided we'd like to continue life in California," he said of that coast-to-coast move. "But I fully expected to be shipping my work back to New York. I never expected I'd have acceptance here. It was a happy surprise.
"I've never had to worry, "Where will my pieces go?' I've always found people who would buy them. That gives me an obligation to be worthy of their support.
"I have a home here, an audience. If you have listeners, you feel free to speak. I have what every artist wants a little corner of the world."
Visalia-born and reared, Renzi spent his formative years studying and working in the Bay area, Vienna and New York.
He met his future bride, Dorothy Ohanessian, a Fresnan, while attending school at Berkeley after leaving the Navy. He had actually began his wood- sculpting career as a Naval officer, while in charge of a lumberyard in Hawaii.
After college in Berkeley (where Renzi received a degree in public finance), the couple traveled to Vienna, where he studied the German expressionist style. They then moved to New York, where Renzi worked with the prestigious Sculpture Center before returning to California.
"It was necessary for me to get away from my immediate environment and explore the world," he said of his decision to leave the valley as a teen- ager. "It gave me more of a dimension of what life and art are all about, more points of reference."
It's a process that never stops. Renzi has made more than a dozen trips to Verona, Italy, to take advantage of "their good foundries and good food."
And to people-watch. "Since my subject matter is people, I enjoy watching people and their cultures all over the world and the country," he said.
And it would take a lot of traveling just to see all of Renzi's artwork. He still has galleries in Chicago and New York, and his sculptures grace public buildings throughout California.
Fresnans are familiar with "The Visit" at the north end of the Fulton Mall; "The Readers," at the downtown branch of the Fresno County Free Library; and the statue of boxer "Young Corbett," in front of Selland Arena.
Small models of many public statues are on display in the Art Museum collection, which covers several stylistic periods. Many of the pieces were borrowed from private collections, and Renzi said he had a difficult time finding his works because of poor record-keeping early in his career.
A look at the exhibit shows the array of styles Renzi has used through the years. His latest project is creating tall, wide (but thin) heroic figures from the Old Testament.
In 1986 he built "Job," a tall figure who seems to be asking, "Why me?" This year be created "Ruth," "Naomi and Ruth" and "Deborah," all standing tall and proud. The solo Ruth casts her eyes toward heaven.