Clemente’s desire to take up the classical tradition in his work or, to put it another way, to make a contemporary painting in the style of the past, is related to a more intense yearning: to develop an image with a universal reading. This is not so much a Transavantgarde or trans-historic option intended to bridge the gap between past and present as one that engages with different traditions. His interest in Eastern culture, with which he has had strong ties since his youth, is not just incidental or a place from which he can draw a series of themes: it involves a desire to make images that emerge from a synthesis of the two cultures—Eastern and Western—so that they can be universally understood. He has tried to obtain those images of universal understanding through what he refers to as ‘unknown ideograms’ or ‘ideograms in costume’. War is a triptych of abstract appearance with large planes of colour on which simplified elements, which may refer to some kind of figuration, appear. As in Miele, Argento, Sangue, the abstract appearance is constantly subjected to tension both by a series of symbolic elements and by the revealing nature of the title. If, as the title indicates, the painting refers to war, he is not seeking to represent a particular one or to depict a battle. In War there is no narration; it is a non-narrative image that invites the viewer to intellectually reconstruct the idea of war. The image refers to the idea of a parade through a series of iconic elements arranged behind a flag, and to the idea of destruction, through the use of the colour red. He wants to prevent the meaning of the work from imposing itself, to have it emerge allusively in the image. This non-narrative and allusive character, which turns the picture into a sign with universal value, is what defines the image as an ideogram. War is thus an ideogram that refers to the universal idea of war, of armies, parades, totalitarianism and destruction. Clemente’s challenge lies in creating pictorial images that reproduce a kind of prelinguistic language with universal value. He seeks to achieve this by exploiting the allusive potential of images, giving a central role to the imagination—to the reconstructive and interpretative power of the image in the viewer. This is where one can discern his relationship with Surrealism, but it is a reinterpreted form of Surrealism that denies any possibility of narrative. And, crucially, the Eastern influence is revealed; to the extent that he uses images that allude to universal concepts, the spiritual or essentialist character that art has for him is made evident.
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