Francesco Clemente

Untitled B


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Francesco Clemente born 1952
Lithograph on paper
Image: 659 x 2010 mm
Purchased 1987

Not on display

Catalogue entry

P77180 Untitled B 1986

Lithograph 659 × 2010 (26 × 79 1/8) on three sheets of buff mould-made Okawara (Kozo) paper, left 659 × 505 (25 × 19 7/8), centre 656 × 1000 (24 3/4 × 39 3/8), right 657 × 505 (25 7/8 × 19 7/8); printed by Perry Tymeson at Petersburg Press, New York and published by Petersburg Press, London and New York in an edition of 100
Inscribed ‘Francesco Clemente’ and ‘78/100’ b.l.
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: Alberto Savinio, Francesco Clemente, The Departure of the Argonaut, New York and London 1986, repr. on cover; Print Collectors' Newsletter, vol.32, no.5, Nov.–Dec. 1986, p.182

‘Untitled B’ is printed in black on three abutting sheets and has an unusually elongated format. A clock is depicted on the left, with its hands at a quarter to eleven. In the central sheet a ship is steaming across the sea, while on the right, on the shore, are two urns and a male figure kneeling between outstretched scallop shells that look like wings. The clock is enclosed within four concentric rings, coiled like a rope and patterned like a snakeskin. This pattern dominates all sections of P77180, appearing as the writhing texture of stylised waves in the central section and as snake-like heads on the right.

‘Untitled B’ was published at the same time as another lithograph, ‘Untitled A’, which has a similar elongated format and was also printed on three sheets. The image of P77180 was reproduced on the cover of The Departure of the Argonaut, an artist's book based on the first English translation by George Scrivani of a story by Alberto Savinio (1891–1952). The middle section was on the front and back covers, and the outer sections were folded inside.

The author and painter Alberto Savinio joined the Italian army in the summer of 1915 along with his brother, the painter Giorgio de Chirico, and in 1917 was sent to the front at Salonica, Savinio recounted the story of this journey and his experience of the war in The Departure of the Argonaut, which is written in the combined styles of a diary and a travelogue. There is no passage in the narrative which corresponds directly to the image of ‘Untitled B’, although there are frequent descriptions of the sea, the maritime journey, landfalls, and parallels are drawn between Savinio's own journey and those in classical antiquity, including the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. Savinio first published The Departure of the Argonaut as a broadsheet in 1917, in France and Italy. In 1918 it was included as the final, and most obviously autobiographical, section of Hermaphrodita, a compilation of Savinio's poems, theatre pieces and prose works.

Clemente's book contained forty-eight lithographs superimposed upon the text of each double-page spread. The dimensions of each page were 65 × 50 cm and the book was published in an edition of 200 with thirty-two proofs (numbered I-XXXII). A reduced-scale facsimile was also published in November 1986, when the unbound double-page spreads and a bound copy of the editioned artist's book were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The explanatory text in the facsimile edition states in error that ‘Untitled B’ is printed on four sheets of paper. This was corrected when the catalogue was republished, with explanatory texts in French, for an exhibition of the artist's book and related prints in the Cabinet des estampes du Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva, in 1988. ‘Untitled B’ was used for the cover of both publications, which are identical, except for different explanatory texts attached to the cover inside the front flap. In ‘“The Departure of the Argonaut”: A Departure for Clemente’ (Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.17, no.3, July–Aug. 1986, pp.87–9), Gerrit Henry wrote about the making of Clemente's book, although he does not refer specifically to ‘Untitled B’.

Discussing the relationship between the text and the illustrations in the design of The Departure of the Argonaut, Clemente said in an interview:

It is not a matter of illustrating the written work: it is a matter of illustrating the heard word. Inasmuch as the ending of the text says ‘Now the event should begin, the text must end’. The text is whatever comes before, and when the real adventure begins, we have to give up the text ... There are all these taboo words in art: you are not supposed to illustrate. I don't know on what illustration depends. I don't understand what illustration is in the first place, so I don't know if I illustrated it or not. I don't know what it means. Don't you always illustrate your own thoughts in a way? Either you illustrate your own thoughts or you illustrate someone else's thoughts. As far as they are good thoughts, who cares? In a sense, one should always work on someone else's thoughts. There is always someone else who thinks better than you do.

(Rainer Crone and Georgia Marsh,
Clemente: An Interview with Francesco Clemente,
New York 1987, pp.53–4)

In the same interview, Clemente discussed his reasons for making books, referring to the writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin and the artist Max Ernst at the time of the Second World War (ibid., pp.52–3):

The books have to do with traveling, I think. They have to do with an image I have always had of Walter Benjamin getting to the border; he couldn't get across, so he killed himself. Whereas Max Ernst showed all these collages, and they let him go. It has to do with that. I always thought I wanted something I could carry in my pocket to get through the border. The point of carrying a book is that one book should be sufficient. Each one should carry everything in it.

Clemente suggested that a book should also be widely accessible. ‘It should belong to a people, to a place, to an imaginary people and an imaginary place’. ‘To me’, he continued, ‘books, like frescoes, are born from a feeling of communality, exactly at the opposite pole from any sort of hierarchy’ (ibid., p.53). He said Savinio's book was about Italy, ‘the last surviving place where the irresponsible soul of Europe is still alive. Italy is this place where things don't really need to happen because they are always there already. You know, what for a European is a conquest, for Italy is a gift. This is what Italians are busy trying to deny all the time, trying to make themselves into poisonous idiots, conquering things, which is not the nature of the country’ (ibid.).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996