Francesco Clemente: Emblems of Transformation at Blain Southern
One hundred and eight beads make up the Japa mala, a Hindu and Buddhist prayer tool. Francesco Clemente’s display of sumptuous watercolours make up the same number. This, as Clemente describes, is a meditative series, both delicate and expressive, detailing the influences of his many years living in India.
These small-scale paintings take their character largely from Indian miniature paintings. Clemente asked the traditional miniaturist artists to add these technical elements to his paintings from their workshop in Rajasthan, an example of the artist’s long history of working with craftsmen. The works detail imaginations invoked by India, showing mystical, traditional and carnal scenes. Women dance on the tongues of enormous shadowy faces, fish and humans kiss and devour each other. They show love and war, life and death and, most importantly for Clemente, the objectivity of imagination.
The bold scenes are composed with delicate gold and silver fragments expertly applied to scenes that flow seamlessly into the next. A set of more muted, sepia-coloured pieces sit among the vivid watercolours like faded photographs. They are the work of a conceptual artist with a great understanding of eastern traditions of contemplation.
It’s Clemente’s energy for exploration that make these paintings so rich. In his career – spanning four decades – he has worked with a variety of mediums, from pastels to printmaking to watercolours, alongside some of this decade’s most recognisable cultural figures, from Andy Warhol to Allen Ginsberg. These works see a return to his luminous style, after he spent the previous decade experimenting with the dark and grotesque.
Consistently, though, his work has demonstrated introversion through trans-historical themes, something no less apparent in these paintings. Above all they are a personal testimony to inspiration, descriptive, not prescriptive, of an artist’s lifelong journey. This series, as he suggests, is his pilgrimage.
Francesco Clemente: Emblems of Transformation is at Blain Southern from 29th April until 27th June 2015, for further information visit here.