In 1980 Achille Bonito Oliva defined the Transavantgarde as a movement that crosses all traditions and all history. In the case of Francesco Clemente, the trans-historic condition assigned by Bonito Oliva focuses on an attempt to make modern painting in the style of the past and, at the same time, to resolve the tension between different traditions. In other words, his challenge lies in doing painting that takes up the Classical Roman and Renaissance tradition in a contemporary formulation which will be valid today. The will to link up with the past can be clearly seen in Miele, Argento, Sangue, which is a fresco. Clemente began to paint it in the early eighties, taking up a characteristic technique of ancient Rome (he was familiar with the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum) and the Italian Renaissance. Nevertheless, his use of the fresco technique also involves a formal quality of the paint itself. First, the execution means following the ancient techniques to the letter in terms of dedication—the painter has to keep to a particular timetable or system for the fresco and the paint to set—and, more importantly, the paint needs to be applied with a certain speed, with no chance to make any corrections. The fresco technique perfectly reflects his interests, in his determination to link up with the past and with the production of a work which, as the result of his interest in Eastern culture, opens up a dialogue with nature. The last essential feature of fresco painting is the use of natural pigments, in such a way that, far from obtaining the strident colours of pigments made with artificial agglutinins, the result gives the colour a feeling of lightness and immaterialness. Miele, Argento, Sangue is formed by three bands of colour which reproduce the three elements of the title: three basic elements which Clemente has taken from Hindu culture. With the title he goes beyond the abstract appearance of the picture and, far from being an exclusively formal and self-referential matter, the colour takes on strong symbolic connotations and turns the painting into a kind of ideogram. And beyond the abstract appearance of the work, he introduces two figurative, symbolic elements: a fly on the honey and a crude sketch of the male and female sexual attributes. In that way, he not only develops his interest in symbols, allusion and subtle ideograms; he also introduces a note of irony.
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