Francesco Clemente’s ‘Emblems of Transformation’ Is a True Gem of An Exhibition

Despite its vast size, Blain Southern feels intimate, like a jewel box, for its latest exhibition, ‘Emblems of Transformation‘, a show comprised of 108 watercolour works by Italian artist, Francesco Clemente. This atmosphere perfectly suits these paintings, which are Francesco’s own take on Indian miniatures, with some of the elements even executed by a family of Indian miniaturist painters in Rajasthan. Fittingly, the theme of jewelry is glowingly prevalent throughout the series.

'Emblems of Transformation 76,' Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014
‘Emblems of Transformation 76,’ Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014

Walking into the Hanover Square gallery, one can’t quite make out the details of what’s on the walls at first, but the brilliant colours invite a viewer to step closer, and then one by one, examine each painting that elegantly circles the room like a necklace. Though I’m not usually one to linger in front of artwork, I took my time with these little gems, the imagery of rainbows and jewels drawing me in, and the mythological undertones of some of the pieces holding me at attention.

Francesco Clemente 'Emblems of Transformation' at Blain Southern, London
Francesco Clemente ‘Emblems of Transformation’ at Blain Southern, London

I was especially struck with work no. 66, which distinctly reminded me of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ specifically of Ophelia floating peacefully in death, surrounded by flowers.

'Emblems of Transformation 66,' Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014
‘Emblems of Transformation 66,’ Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014

Similarly, work no. 108 seems to display Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, except that the Earth, instead of appearing as a heavy burden, is portrayed as an airborne balloon.

'Emblems of Transformation 108,' Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014
‘Emblems of Transformation 108,’ Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014

These nods to Western tales, add a dimension to the suite that I find quite intriguing, and combined with more typical Indian miniature scenes, make for a stunning and truly unique whole.

This idea of part-to-whole is in fact very important to the show. The 108 pieces themselves, represent the number of beads in the traditional japa mala, a token used by both Hindus and Buddhists at prayer. Just as each individual bead links to another to make up the whole, so too does each independent artwork connect to the next to complete the suite.

While most of the works are comprised of bold colours — pink, gold, silver, red and saffron yellow — a few of them are distinctly muted, recalling a sepia photograph that has faded with time. In my mind, these more neutral pieces further the mythological theme, by emulating a feeling of times past, as if the scenes portrayed actually happened on a not-so-distant yesterday.

'Emblems of Transformation 14,' Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014
‘Emblems of Transformation 14,’ Francesco Clemente, Watercolour on paper, 2014

Francesco first traveled to India in 1973, and has returned there periodically to live and work ever since. While ‘Emblems of Transformation‘ is very much a tribute to India, and the iconic Indian art of miniature painting, it is, beyond that a moving portrayal of the opposition that is always present in our lives — light and dark, good and evil, strength and weakness, life and death.

– India Irving

Francesco Clemente ‘Emblems of Transformation‘ is on view at Blain Southern until 27 June, 2015; 4 Hanover Square London, W1S 1BP; Open Monday-Friday 10AM-6PM (Saturday until 5PM); Admission: FREE

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