“I believe there is such a thing as an imagination shared by the different contemplative traditions. My goal is to collect images and references from these traditions and connect them with the emotions from the present-day, and common experiences.”
- Francesco Clemente
Painted in 1990-1991, Oblation is a work of considerable scale painted by one of the most renowned artists of the 1980s. Known for his dream-like figures, elegant palette and signature wide-eyed facial-compositions, and the present work depicts disembodied human parts creeping into the picture plane from beyond the frame. Executed in earth-toned neutral palette, Oblation is absent of any recognizable figures per se, and at the center of the composition, a glowing white orb dominates the painting. As a religious offering, the title immediately calls to mind the essence of life. The white ovoid shape is flanked at the bottom by shoulders, to the right by a pointed face in profile, penetrated by a tongue. Reproductive organs, including a set of female breasts and a penis breach the left and upper edges of the circular form, and it seems all these body parts reference the human life cycle.
While his work of the 1980s followed celebrity culture, portraits of friends and other art world notables including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, his work in the 1990s began to investigate tantric traditions as a result of his growing preoccupation with India and Tibet. Resolutely meditative, Clemente’s work of this period was deeply embedded in spiritual references, combining theologies from Western and Eastern practice. He explained in a recent interview, “I believe in inclusiveness and contamination. East and West have always communicated and inspired one another. And it is the capacity to absorb and to include the most diverse cultural patterns which has always attracted me to India. I made the tents, and much of my work in India. Often an artist doesn’t create a narrative but rather highlights a story which is already there, unseen. Diversity is what has kept the world together, and still does. I aim at showing the resilience of diversity” (F. Clemente, in conversation with J. Hutchins, as accessed on http://www.berlinartlink.com/2013/10/08/interview-francesco-clementes-new-installation-tents/).
The present work is closely related to another painting in the collection of the Cleveland Art Museum by the same title. “Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, where Francesco Clemente has spent considerable time over the past two decades. In Oblation, which means a religious offering, he combines the simplified forms and large scale of contemporary western painting with elements of Hindu culture. The figure in the complicated pose at the top of the painting is practicing yoga, the physical and mental discipline that leads to the union of body and soul. The animals below symbolize some of the creative spiritual forces in Indian mythology. The elephant suggests wisdom and longevity; the cow may signify motherhood and purity; the horse often represents military power; and Varuna, the Hindu god of water, rides a crocodile. The mystical combination suggests the sacred harmony that results when humans show respect for animals” (as accessed, http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1993.164).