William Kentridge

Tania Sheko
Mar 10, 2019 · 4 min read
William Kentridge

William Kentridge (born 28 April 1955) is a South African artist best known for his prints, drawings, and 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 palimpsest-like drawings are later displayed along with the films as finished pieces of art.

a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. (Wikipedia)

As someone who is ethnically Jewish in South Africa, Kentridge has a unique position as a third-party observer. His parents were lawyers, famous for their defence of victims of apartheid. Kentridge developed an ability to remove himself somewhat from the atrocities committed under the later regimes. 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.

Kentridge is of expressionist lineage: form often alludes to content and vice 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. Due to the sparse, rough and expressive qualities of Kentridge’s handwriting, the viewer sees a sombre picture upon first glance, an impression that is perpetuated as the image illustrates a vulnerable and uncomfortable situation.

Aspects of social injustice that have transpired over the years in South Africa have often become fodder for Kentridge’s pieces. Casspirs Full of Love, viewable at the Metropolitan 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.

“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.” (Wikipedia)

William Kentridge: Exhibitions and events at MoMA

William Kentridge, Five Themes
William Kentridge, Shadow Procession (animated film), Monchehaus Museum Goslar (Germany)
William Kentridge, UNTITLED (Walking man turning into a tree), 2001
Linocut on Tableau rice paper
William Kentridge, HOPE IN THE GREEN LEAVES, 2013
Linocut on Hahnemuhle
William Kentridge, Linocut printed on non-archival pages from Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
Medusa, 2001. Lithograph on chine colle, printed on the 1906 French Larousse Encyclopedia. Mirror finish steel cylinder. Stanford
William Kentridge. Smoke, Ashes, Fable
William Kentridge. Smoke, Ashes, Fable
William Kentridge — Pasolini
William Kentridge, Felix in Exile 2
William Kentridge, The hope in the charcoal cloud 2014 (detail) Collection of Naomi Milgrom AO

Art viewpoints

Year 10 students’ exploration of Art