Posted by: glue | May 1, 2009

Prudence Today

Smile Now, Cry Later

Smile Now, Cry Later

Francesco Clemente painted this work in response to Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, as part of a series for the National Gallery, collected in Encounters:  New Art from Old, Richard Morphet. These two paintings (Titian and Clemente)– two allegories of prudence–together constitute guidelines for a series to which I will contribute in my own way.  Having noted the features of Titian’s prudence, I will outline the salient components of Clemente’s version here, following Morphet’s discussion.

1) The point of departure for the theme came from one of Clemente’s friends in Los Angeles, a Chicano, who bore a tattoo including a statement of wisdom popular among his peers.  On each arm there was tattooed a pretty girl, one smiling, with the words “smile now,” one crying, with the words “cry later.”

2) Clemente chose to enter a dialogue with Titian’s allegory for several reasons, beginning with his own engagement with the emblem as a form and tradition.  He admired Ezra Pound’s imagism, or vorticism, taking the poetics of the ideogram as an updating of the emblem, with its capacity to create an internal flash of coherence through the juxtaposition heterogeneous materials.

3) Clemente riffed on Titian’s iconography (relating the three ages of man with three totem animals) which Clemenete associated with the gryllus, a representation for Medievel people of the baser instincts of life.  The gryllus theme is evoked through the growing vine, each of whose leaves depicts a naked black man, each one either smiling or crying and holding a paper with the appropriate half of the title proverb.  Superimposed over the entire scene is a winged phallus, an ancient symbol associated with sexual cosmic vitality.  The gryllus and the winged phallus may be read as conflicting attitudes towards embodied desire.

4) The painting fills a wall (92 x 184 ins), done in a style meant to suggest graffiti art, including spray painting, referring to the setting in which Clemente’s Chicano friend lives.

How do I go on from here?  What is the vector of the relay from Titian through Clemente to me, intimating how I may express what I have learned about my own relationship with prudence?  The condition of  the soul incarnated in a beast as an allegory of desire continues today as avatar formation.   A figure is forming, in any case, juxtaposing my own scene of decision (Spain 1965-66) with the Cabot-Koppers Superfund disaster.

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