Fabrizio Clerici was born in Milan on May 15, 1913. In 1920 his family moved to Rome, where he graduated with a degree in architecture in 1937. He was considerably influenced by ancient monuments and both Renaissance and Baroque painting and architecture. As a student he attended conferences held by Le Corbusier in Rome. In 1936 he befriended Alberto Savinio, who introduced him to Surrealism. He moved to Milan at the end of the 1930s, where became associated with Giorgio de Chirico and Filippo de Pisis, and devoted himself to both architecture and drawing.

In 1943 he held his first solo exhibition at the Galleria d'Arte Cairola in Milan, where he exhibited drawings, watercolors, lithographs, and etchings. His first book illustrations also date from this period, among them Leoncello Leonardi's Bestiario and Luigi Pirandello's Il fu Mattia Pascal. In 1947 Clerici made his debut as a set designer for a production of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren’s Profession, thus commencing what would become a prolific activity in theater, ballet, and opera. The following year, he participated in the Venice Biennale for the first time. There he met Salvador Dalí and designed sets and costumes for Igor Stravinskij’s Orpheus, playing at Teatro La Fenice.

Clerici settled in Rome in 1949, where he increased his set-designing activities and took part in shows at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh. In 1953 he travelled to Egypt and was inspired to paint the Templi dell’uovo, a series of tempera paintings about ideal archaeological excavations that he then presented at the 1956 Venice Biennale. In 1955 Clerici met Jean Cocteau and Federico Zeri, published Taccuino Orientale—a collection of drawings about an imaginary journey to the Middle East—in Milan, participated in the São Paulo Bienal, and held a solo show at the Sagittarius Gallery in New York. In the late 1950s, he created a series in which pegs, safety pins, and other common objects were decontextualized and presented as archaeological artifacts. Between 1974 and 1985 he created a series of paintings and drawings inspired by Arnold Böcklin renowned painting, The Isle of the Dead. During the 1980s and 1990s Clerici was the subject of retrospective exhibitions at the Galleria Civica d’Arte in Moderna, Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara in 1983, Palazzo Reale in Caserta in 1987, and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. Fabrizio Clerici died in Rome on June 7, 1993.