William Kentridge is a process artist among many other things. He creates, paces, adjusts, and creates again. His work evolves, and ideas develop along the way. The process is natural yet rarely so eloquent.
In Journey to the Moon (2003), Kentridge shares the work he conducts in the studio. While the studio is contained, it is also enlarged by Kentridge’s paces and thoughts. He walks, catches, draws, and ruminates. Ideas swirl, and Kentridge follows them. In his essay “Artist in the Studio”, Kentridge explains that he “had made the film hoping to escape the confines of the studio but ended up still stuck inside it, looking out through the window of the rocket ship”.
Kentridge takes his artwork seriously, yet he is playful and faithful to the process. That’s not easy to pull off. I am developing and incorporating this skill both in and outside of the studio by teaching kids yoga.
As a young man, Kentridge avoided becoming an artist. He didn’t think he had a right to be one. He believed he needed to develop a point of view about the world first. I identify with that sentiment. When choosing between colleges, I decided to pursue advertising and marketing at a large university rather than painting or drawing a small art college. One, I was playing it “safe”. Two, I thought it was important to have experiences outside the art world in order to create a solid world view. It may have been faulty reasoning, but that was the course I took.
Born and raised in South Africa, Kentridge paid witness to the apartheid. In his work, he analyses his position in relationship to South Africa’s political system and documents the violence. When pain and hurt appear, the question of appropriation begins to arise; however, the appropriation appears to honor and understand rather than misuse (see 1:48 in the video below) unlike Dana Shutz’s depiction of Emmett Till.
Kentridge’s work explores time, sight, and perception. Kentridge erases and works on top of his drawings to create animation. The process suggests the continuous change, the passing of time, and the ghostly nature of history. He explores the nature and abuse of sight by way of his character Ubu (a character that morphs between a cartoon king and a camera and tripod). In Ubu Tells the Truth (1997), surveillance is used as a means of evil. Documentation is used against victims of the state. Kentridge plays with perception by making use of direct gaze such as in the History of the Main Complaint (1996), the separation of sight into two as in Stereoscope (1999), and the distortion of sight in What Will Come (has already come) (2007).
I enjoy how many ways one can interpret and think about Kentridge’s work. All the while, it remains playful and endearing. His work is political, but it certainly doesn’t lecture. Rather, it draws you in.
There hasn’t been a Kentridge show in Houston since 2002. I hope there will be another some day soon. What do you think of Kentridge’s work? Do you know of any others working in the same vein? Do you consider yourself a process oriented artist?
Reading (all books are available at the Houston Public Library):
William Kentridge: Five Themes, Mark Rosenthal, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
“William Kentridge retrospective: Africa's largest modern art museum goes beyond identity politics”, Sertan Sanderson, Deutsche Welle
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
“A Conversation: Jerry Uelsmann’s Analog Dreams”, James Estrin, The New York Times
“William Kentridge”, The Big Interview, Monocle
“Facts Aren't Enough: The Psychology Of False Beliefs”, Hidden Brain, NPR