Two works from Francesco Clemente's Book of the Sea series

Scale shot of Francesco Clemente's Symmetry, 1991

Francesco Clemente's Symmetry, 1991

Scale shot of Francesco Clemente's Chain, 1996

Francesco Clemente's Chain, 1996

Series | Book of the Sea

How To Be A Leaf

Hold your breath until
you are God’s green thoughts.
Stop eating,

air will suffice for food.
Water is another matter:
the skin absorbs moisture,
eyes adjust,
limbs grow inward.
Conjugate patience.
Worship women and trees.

—Jeet Thayil

In 1991, Francesco Clemente initiated a new series of large-scale watercolor paintings with his first visit to Port Antonio, a community on Jamaica’s northeast coast. Continuing to develop his Book of the Sea watercolors for over a decade during his recurring visits there, Clemente drew from the history, culture, and mythology of the Caribbean, combining this inspiration with his own personal iconography. Unusually large for watercolors, the works in this series possess vivid colors that evoke the tropical light of the region. In Chain, a stork-like bird carries a bundle—shockingly not of the baby one might expect, but of a skull—while the links of chains emerge below. Here, Clemente draws upon the symbols of voudun, while also evoking the dark legacy of slavery that was endemic to Caribbean history.


, 1991
Watercolor on paper
46 1/2 × 44 1/2 inches (118.1 × 113 cm)
Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio; Collection of the Artist

Chain, 1996
Watercolor on paper
55 1/2 × 55 inches (141 × 139.7 cm)
Courtesy of Francesco Clemente Studio; Collection of the Artist

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