Until September 8; Edinburgh Printmakers
When William Kentridge was a boy, his awareness of injustices in his
homeland of South Africa was felt more deeply than many other whites.
At the age of six, he opened a box on his fathers desk and found
photographs of the victims of a massacre. His father, a lawyer, played
a key role in many late- and post-apartheid trials and inquests, including
that of Steven Biko.
Kentridge has lived through the dying throes of apartheid, the recriminations
which followed, and South Africas continuing social and political
problems, not least a raging AIDS epidemic. These dark subjects haunt
the artists work, whether as explicit subject matter, or as
the ghost of a more universal human tragedy which lurks in the shadows.
A variety of artforms weave in and out of each other in Kentridges
work, none quite separable from the whole. The artist is perhaps best
known for his animations, drawn, erased, and redrawn in charcoal,
every movement leaving a trace of its own history behind. These films
are inseparable from his drawings: dark, acutely observed, often cryptic
and sometimes even funny.
Opera, puppetry and theatre design also play large parts in the artists
repertoire, winning him international acclaim for such productions
as Mozarts The Magic Flute. Kentridges theatrical passions
in turn knit their way into his films, his drawings, and his prints.
While last years Glasgow International brought us two of the
artists recent films, this year Edinburgh Printmakers brings
us over 50 Kentridge prints never seen in Scotland before.
The prints cover a range of traditional techniques, used with mastery,
great invention, and only the occasional glimpse of colour. Kentridge
is a consummate graphic artist whose vision of the world is composed
almost entirely of black and white. The opposing forces of light and
shadow are profoundly symbolic in his hands, taking in the philosophy
of Platos cave, the idea of enlightenment, and the mechanics
Yet none of this is simply stated. Kentridge said in 1998 that he
was interested in an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted
gestures, and uncertain endings, and this is what youll
find in Edinburgh Printmakers. Narratives are suggested, characters
developed, and cryptic motifs recur. Images fight with their own reflections,
or indulge in games of seduction with them. Settings are implied with
the greatest economy, and there is always a sense of something happening,
heavy with the weight of history.
The Ubu Tells The Truth series contains all of these elements in a
powerful suite of eight prints, taking its inspiration from Alfred
Jarrys absurdist play, Ubu Roi, about a grotesque character
with a lust for power and a tendency to commit acts of gratuitous
cruelty. In 1997, Kentridge staged his own adaptation of Jarrys
play, set in the context of South Africas Truth and Reconciliation
Before the play came these prints, combining Jarrys iconic outline
drawing of Ubu, all spiral-bellied and cone-headed, with Kentridges
own fleshy body trapped within. While Jarrys Ubu is crudely
chalked, its fleshy inner being is a masterpiece of etching, the artists
thumbprints masquerading as the tonal hatching of old-fashioned engraving.
This aesthetic tension between Ubus two bodies is mirrored in
the action, where one appears to be dead, the other alive, or one
heads right while the other points angrily left.
One of the set, Act IV Scene 1, depicts the fleshy Ubu in a classic
recumbent pose. This image would later reappear in Kentridges
Sleeper series, with various materials impressed into the ground to
create texture and damage across the skin of the sleeping man. These
marks are more than modelling: they are the bruises and tyre tracks
of abuse, perhaps dating back to those photographs Kentridge saw as
a six-year old.
Of the brand new works, LInesorabile Avanzata uses Kentridges
favourite motif of the newspaper, and a sinister gasmask stalking
the landscape, to evoke a terrible sense of doom, half-ignored by
an unconcerned world.
On a lighter note, Magic Flute: Doves is a series of drypoints shown
in their different states, just as Picasso did with bulls 60 years
ago. Unlike the bull, Kentridges dove is shown in various stages
of flight, like individual frames of an animation. This takes his
prints into the realm of his drawings for projection,
where charcoaled pictures are progressively redrawn for the camera.
That comparison with Picasso is no coincidence: Kentridge frequently
references the Spanish artists graphic work in his prints. A
trip to the Dean Gallerys current show of Picassos prints
reveals parallels between Kentridges Summer Graffiti and Picassos
13 etchings of the artist in his studio. The Spaniards famous
weeping women also put in an appearance. The South African may be
less of a household name than Picasso, but his powers of print-making
invention put him up there in a similar league.
Black, Sunday Herald 29.07.07