rushdie on clemente


Salaman Rushdie’s thoughts on the Indian Italian paintings of Francesco Clemente.

There is a story by Italo Calvino about a time when the moon was closer to the earth than it is today, when lovers could leap off the earth to walk upon its satellite and look up at their home planet hanging upside-down above their heads. Separation, inversion, the fascination of the leap: these are the characteristics of Clemente’s paintings. His is a traveller’s art. “In each place where I was,” he says, “the continuity of memories, the tradition of the place, has been broken, somewhere, sometime; I don’t know why. Really, you can’t look at any place in the world from the place itself. You have to look from somewhere else to see what is there.” These ideas, of the fragmentation of cultures and of the creative benefits of displacement, are close, also, to my heart. “The only ones who see the whole picture,” one of my half-remembered characters says somewhere, in some half-forgotten book, “are the ones who step out of the frame.” Fragments are what we have left and the artist must assemble them into meaningful form, so that they can reveal some, at least, of their broken mysteries, the way the shards of Heraclitus’s lost book still, after 2,000 years, retain the power of significant speech. The Self-Portrait with Smoke reassembles a fragmentary self in just this way, uniting the artist’s dissociated and replicated physical elements with the most transient and evanescent of bonds.

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