William Kentridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

William Kentridge is a South African artist. He was born in Johannesburg in 1955. He took a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and then a diploma in Fine Arts from the Johannesburg Art Foundation. At the beginning of the 1980s, he studied mime and theatre at the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He had hoped to become an actor, however: "I was fortunate to discover at a theatre school that I was so bad an actor [... that] I was reduced to an artist, and I made my peace with it."[1]. Between 1975 and 1991, he was acting and directing in Johannesburg's Junction Avenue Theatre Company. In the 1980s, he worked on television films and series as art director.

Kentridge is perhaps best known for his animated films. These are constructed by filming a drawing, making erasures and changes, and filming it again. He continues this process meticulously, giving each change to the drawing a quarter of a second to two seconds' screen time. A single drawing will be altered and filmed this way until the end of a scene. These drawings are later displayed along with the films as finished pieces of art.[1]


[edit] Career

In 1979 Kentridge created 30 monotypes, which soon became known as the "Pit" series. In 1980 he executed about 50 small-format etchings which he called the "Domestic Scenes". These two groups of prints established Kentridge's artistic identity, an identity he has developed in various media. Unfortunately, these early prints have become so rare as to be virtually unobtainable.

In 1989, Kentridge created his first animated work, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris, in the series Drawings for Projection. He used here a technique that would become a feature of his work — successive charcoal drawings, always on the same sheet of paper, contrary to the traditional animation technique in which each movement is drawn on a separate sheet. In this way, Kentridge's videos and films came to keep the traces of the previous drawings. His animations deal with political and social issues from a personal and at times autobiographical point of view, since the author includes his self-portrait in some of his works.

The political content and unique techniques of Kentridge's work have propelled him into the realm of South Africa's top artists. Working with what is in essence a very restrictive media, using only charcoal and a touch of blue or red pastel, he has created animations of astounding depth. A theme running through all of his work is his peculiar way of representing his birthplace. While he does not portray it as the militant or oppressive place that it was for black people, he does not emphasize the picturesque state of living that white people enjoyed during apartheid either; he presents instead a city in which the duality of man is exposed. In a series of nine short films, he introduces two characters, namely Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitlebaum. These characters depict an emotional and political struggle that ultimately reflects the lives of many South Africans in the pre-democracy era.

In an introductory note to Felix In Exile, Kentridge writes, "In the same way that there is a human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events. In South Africa this process has other dimensions. The very term 'new South Africa' has within it the idea of a painting over the old, the natural process of dismembering, the naturalization of things new."

Not only in Felix In Exile but in all of his animated works do the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer: as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed. Kentridge's technique grapples with what is not said, what remains suppressed or forgotten but can easily be felt.

In the nine films that follow Soho Eckstein's life, an increasing vehemency is placed on the evanescing health of the individual and contemporary South African society. Conflicts between anarchic and bourgeois individualistic beliefs, again a reference to the duality of man, indicate the idea of social revolution by poetically disfiguring surrounding buildings and landscapes. Kentridge states that, although his work does not focus on apartheid in a direct and overt manner, but rather on the contemporary state of Johannesburg, his drawings and films are certainly spawned by, and feed off, the brutalised society that it left in its wake. As for more direct political issues, Kentridge says his art presents ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted movements and uncertain endings,[2] all of which seem like insignificant subtleties but can be attributed to most of the calamity presented in his work. In a mixed-media triptych entitled "The Boating Party" (1985), based on Renoir's painting of a similar name, the havoc caused by a seemingly-uninterested aristocracy is perhaps his most severe comment on the state of South Africa during apartheid. The languid diners sit at ease while the surrounding area is ravaged, torn and burned, an interesting contrast that is reflected in his style and choice of colours.

William Kentridge's work is heavily context-dependent, coming as he does from South Africa, a nation whose native people became second-class citizens under an only recently abolished apartheid set by colonising Europeans. Kentridge himself is of European descent, but has a unique position as a third-party observer. His parents were lawyers, famous for their defence of victims of the apartheid, giving Kentridge the ability to remove himself somewhat from the atrocities committed by ethnic group. The basics of South Africa's socio-political condition and history must be known to grasp his work fully, much the same as in the cases of such artists as Francisco Goya and Käthe Kollwitz.[3]

Kentridge is of expressionist lineage: form often alludes to content and vise versa. The feeling that is manipulated by the use of palette, composition and media, among others, often plays an equally vital role in the overall meaning as the subject and narrative of a given work. One must use one's gut reactions as well as one's interpretive skills to find meaning in Kentridge's work, much of which reveals very little actual content: there is as not much of a narrative to be taken from some of his works as there is in many of his others. Due to the sparse, rough and expressive qualities of Kentridge's handwriting, however, the viewer sees a sombre picture upon first glance, an impression that is perpetuated as the image illustrates a vulnerable and uncomfortable situation.[4]

Aspects of social injustice that have transpired over the years in South Africa have often acted as fodder for Kentridge's pieces. "Casspirs Full of Love", viewable at the Met Museum, appears to be nothing more than heads in boxes to the average American viewer, but South Africans know that a casspir is a vehicle used to put down riots, a kind of a crowd-control tank. The box, then, is the casspir and the heads are those of people who have been killed in riots and demonstrations, people who have been "put down".

The title itself, "Casspirs Full of Love", written along the side of the print, is suggestive and is oxymoronic. A casspir full of love is much like a bomb that bursts with happiness: it does not exist. The purpose of a machine such as this is to instil "peace" by force, but Kentridge here is pointing to the fact that it was used as a tool to keep lower-class natives from taking colonial power and money.[5]

"My drawings don't start with a 'beautiful mark'," writes Kentridge, thinking about the activity of printmaking as being about getting the hand to lead the brain, rather than letting the brain lead the hand. "It has to be a mark of something out there in the world. It doesn't have to be an accurate drawing, but it has to stand for an observation, not something that is abstract, like an emotion."

In 1985, Kentridge co- founded Free Film-makers Co-Operative in Johannesburg; in 1999, he was appointed a film-maker by Stereoscope. "Purely in the context of my own work," he wrote in a published playscript of his celebrated Ubu and the Truth Commission, "I would repeat my trust in the contingent, the inauthentic, the whim, the practical, as strategies for finding meaning. I would repeat my mistrust in the worth of Good Ideas. And state a belief that somewhere between relying on pure chance on the one hand, and the execution of a programme on the other, lies the most uncertain but the most fertile ground for the work we do [...]. I think I have shown that it is not the clear light or reason or even aesthetic sensibility which determines how one works, but a constellation of factors only some of which we can change at will."[6]

Kentridge's artworks are among the most sought-after and expensive works in South Africa: "a major charcoal drawing by world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge could set you back some R250 000".[2].

Despite his ongoing exploration of non-traditional media, the foundation of his art has always been drawing and printmaking.

[edit] Films

  • Johannesburg:2nd Greatest City After Paris, 1989
  • Monument, 1990
  • Mine, 1991
  • Sobriety, Obesity & growing old, 1991
  • Felix in Exile, 1994
  • History of the Main Complaint, 1996
  • Weighing and Wanting, 1998
  • Stereoscope, 1999
  • Medicine Chest, 2001
  • Automatic Writing, 2003

His films were shown in the 2004 [3]Cannes Film Festival.

[edit] Exhibitions

[edit] Awards

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Greg Kucera Gallery 2007.
  2. ^ Kasfir 1999.
  3. ^ Cameron, Christov-Bakargiev, Coetzee 1999.
  4. ^ Christov-Bakargiev 1998.
  5. ^ Edmunds 2003.
  6. ^ Kentridge 2007.

[edit] External links

[edit] Images

* Drawing from the series Preparing the Flute.
Personal tools