Sunday, 10 July 2016

William Kentridge

William Kentridge

Kentridge's work is tied to the politics of his homeland South Africa, speaking of racial discrimination, poverty, colonial memory and identity. While the themes of his work differ greatly from my own it is the techniques and process he uses to convey ideas and meaning which I'm primary concerned. Through his hand drawn charcoal animations he manages to carry great emotional charge. They are also very dark works, a sense of loss pervades all, here the loss is social, violence, injustice, colonial memory, racism and inequality. In my work too there is a sense of loss but it is either environmental or psychological.

His short animations are made from large scale chalk or charcoal drawings. Each drawing will be used for a single scene with kentridge erasing and redrawing the image as the scene unfolds. Erased lines remain visible on the page evoking a scene of memory which is a recurring theme in his work. In one of the interviews linked below Kentridge explains how he uses charcoal as it can easily and quickly create a wide range of tonal values as well as being easy to erase. He further explains that this speed with which you can create or erase makes it a medium you can 'think' in.
In addition to his filmic animations Kentridge produces installations, sculptures and drawings which often are made within books or on repurposed surfaces. This is again a form of palimpsest with the addition of his drawings altering the reading of text.

Felix In Exile - 1994

Felix in Exile is Kentridge's 5th film in a set of 9 produced between 1989 - 1996, the collection is set in the devastated landscapes of Johannesburg as it undergoes social and political change.

Felix in Exile - William Kentridge - 1994 

Felix in Exile follows two characters; the first we see is Nadi, an african woman who at the start is found drawing the landscape and recording acts of violence and massacre against black South Africans. This she sees through surveyor's instruments, it as if this violence is the foundations from which a new South Africa will be built. The second Character is Felix Teitelbaum who features in Kentridge's first and forth films as a compassionate character opposed to the brutal status quo of the era. Felix first appears in a hotel room, the character is naked and as such vulnerable. It is also worth noting that the Character of Felix appears in many of Kentridges works and bares a striking resemblance to the artist himself. The two characters meet through a surreal exchange in Felix's mirror. Through a telescope Felic sees the brutal past and Nadi's own death, as the scene plays out the room fills with water representing both tears of loss and grief as well as the biblical promise of a new beginning.

Created just before South Africa's first democratic election Felix in Exile could be seen to question how the turbulent and troubled past would be remembered. Kenfridges crude stop frame technique means that that movement is jerky, awkward, violent. These are uncomftale images for an uncomfortable subject matter. The use of charcoal too personalises the action, these are images Kentridge has had to labour over, study, refine. In the past he has called the act of drawing his animations as a 'compassionate act' as labour and attention must be paid over long periods of time, bringing a scene of humanity to the brutal subject matter. However he does not say he makes work directly about apartheid rather its social consequences.

‘I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake. I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain things. An art (and a politics) in which my optimism is kept in check and my nihilism at bay.’ - William Kentridge Ferris P. & Moore, J. (1990) Art from South Africa. p.52.

It is the way he creates such 'ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain things' which draws me to his work. The ideas and concepts behind his work are markedly different to my own but in the means by which he explores them there is a correlation.

Like Kentridge I too think the hand drawn brings a human, 'compassionate' route through which the viewer can access the work. I also have been seduced by charcoal as a medium, the ease with which one can create and then redraw large scale works and its tonal qualities making it perfect for animation. The imperfect, gestural nature of charcoal offers a tactile and rich surface, and one that is as transitory as the narratives it depicts.

‘The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are or how we operate in the world. It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that can be detected judgment, ethics and morality.'
William Kentridge. London: Phaidon Press (1999) p.35

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