"In six hundred million, or however many people there are in India, there is nobody who, for one second, thinks of the whole as something that you can explain. I mean, there is nobody there who tries to get an image of the whole thing. This means that there are no totalitarian ideas."....."My work runs through iconography. It doesn't promote one iconography over another. I carry inside me the idea that it's better to be many than one, that many gods are better than just one god, many truths are better than one alone." ( Francesco Clemente quoted in Francesco Clemente Michael Auping. New York,1985. p.20 and Francesco Clemente in Belfast, exhib. cat., Belfast, 1984. respectively.)
Executed in gouache on hand-made paper shortly after the completion of his series of twenty four Indian miniatures, Al Mare o in Montagna ("By the Sea or in the Mountains") is a startling image of universality that, as with so much of Clemente's art, is centred on a mystical notion of the Self.
The composition of Al Mare o in Montagna is centred on the naked body of a man who lies on the shoreline flanked by two amphorae. Behind him are the mountains and in front of him the sea. Both are surrounded by an infinite expanse of sky that lends an illusory quality to the scene and in its style echoes the imaginary worlds depicted in Tibetan thangkas. From the ice-capped mountains three rivers flow into one that flows into the man's anus, through his body and out of his mouth where it is contained in a cup. Both the idea of the body as a container and as an intermediary is simultaneously expressed in this extraordinary image whose title repeats this sense of being two things at once.
Visually echoing popular Indian art and its depictions of Hindu myths such as the creation of the Ganges from a drop of water in Siva's hair, the impossiblity of the scene inevitably provokes a metaphorical or spitritual reading. The Yogic position of the man, the Kundalini-like flowing lines of the river all seem to recall ancient Indian wisdom regarding the understanding and development of the Self. Yet, despite its visual mirrroring of many popular Indian arts and its association with the many philosophical aspects of Eastern thought and religion, Clemente's intention has been to create a deliberately ambiguous and ultimately uninterpretable image. It is, he believes, "the artist's job ...to bring back the consciousness that nothing is really necessary, and that rational things, rational decisions and facts and events, are not any more necessary than imaginary things." As the mirage-like scene of Al Mare o in Montagna suggests, the world itself is an illusion and it would be "a step forward to realise that the rational picture of the world is also an imagination; (that) it has the same reality as a myth. It is a product of the mind; it is not more substantial than the mind." (Francesco Clemente in, R.Crone, Francesco Clemente, New York, 1987.p. 61)
see separate catalogue