Francesco Clemente

This Side Up


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Not on display
Francesco Clemente born 1952
Etching on paper
Image: 487 x 975 mm
Presented by Jack Shear 2017


This Side Up 1981 is a landscape-format etching which depicts the artist lying on his back, naked, with his hands joined over his head, which is tilted back and seems to be resting on a pillow. His arms are heavily shaded in comparison to his light shoulders and body, as are his nostrils, eyes and eyebrows; between his hands and his head is a rope or tube tied into a bow-like shape. The image is depicted as a bird’s eye view, cut off at the thighs, and an arrow symbol in the top left margin of the plate signals the orientation of the image, with the body lying sideways, also hinted at by the work’s title.

This Side Up belongs to a loose group of twenty-one stand-alone etchings, printed by Hidekatsu Takada at Crown Point Press studio in California; these were Clemente's first etchings, made at a time when the artist was starting to explore the United States after prolonged periods of travelling across India. Clemente drew the images directly on the plates, working from one point outwards, following an intuitive form of expression. This group of prints also includes Seascape 1981 (Tate P07904), in which common objects and human figures float in a flattened, blank space; and Self-Portrait No. 6 (Stoplight) 1981 (Tate P07905), a portrait of the artist making a classic Hindu hand gesture.

Clemente’s self-portraits often depict the artist in contemplative or ecstatic poses, looking back at the viewer as if to make them complicit with the intimacy and intensity of the scene depicted; This Side Up is exemplary of this type of imagery. Clemente’s works are often autobiographical, although they mix mundane details of everyday life with highly symbolic representations of his physical, spiritual and sexual persona.

The artist’s cosmopolitan, pan-cultural outlook has led him to juxtapose the influence of Hinduism and Tantric practices, absorbed on his trips to India, with classical mythology, Catholic iconography from his native Italy, and a variety of other sources from both eastern and western cultures. His visual references range from Italian Renaissance illuminated manuscripts and frescoes to Mughal miniature paintings and contemporary Indian billboards. According to curator and author Raymond Foye, this ability to absorb such a disparate set of influences dated back to Clemente’s first trip to the subcontinent in 1973 and was at the heart of his approach to his art:

the cultural multiformity of India led Clemente to accept fragmentation and stylistic diversity in art, in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural hegemony of the West. By abandoning the traditional hierarchical ordering of experience, Clemente was seeking a more open form that was able to accommodate the influx of new factors brought to the fore in India: eros, the psychic imagination, the mutability of meaning, and the discontinuity of experience.
(Raymond Foye, ‘Madras’, in Philadelphia Museum of Art 1990–1, p.51.)

In the case of This Side Up, the male torso is reminiscent of classical Greek sculpture, while the languid pose and facial expression recall baroque depictions of saints in ecstasy. On the other hand, the pose with two hands joined over the head is associated with the iconography of the Desvarati Ragini in the Ragamala, Mughal miniature paintings representing particular musical modes which Clemente had seen at the Jaipur Museum in January 1981, the year this etching was made; he directly referenced these in a number of gouaches and paintings made between 1981 and 1982.

Printmaking and working on paper are integral to Clemente’s practice and he has created a vast body of works on paper using a number of different techniques, as displayed in Francesco Clemente: Three Worlds, an international retrospective exhibition dedicated exclusively to his works on paper in 1990–1. He came to prominence in the late 1970s with his intensely subjective, often erotic self-portraits and images of contorted figures and disjointed body parts, painted using vibrant palettes and became one of the main figures in the Italian neo-expressionist Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s. This foregrounding of expressive figuration, as a reaction to the then dominant minimal and conceptual artistic trends, links him to such European painters as Sandro Chia (born 1946) and Georg Baselitz (born 1938).

Further reading
Francesco Clemente: Three Worlds, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Royal Academy, London 1990–1.
Clemente, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1999.
Francesco Clemente, Prints 1981–1985, exhibition catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1985.

Valentina Ravaglia
August 2016

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