Gracie Mansion Gallery
The Gracie Mansion Gallery is pleased to be showing prints by William Kentridge through July.
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Kentridge has always moved between the worlds of drawing, filmmaking and theatre. While studying politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, he was working at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, first as a student and then as a teacher of etching. Later he attended the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris to study mime and theatre. All of these interests coincide in the prints of William Kentridge.
Living in Johannesburg, South Africa, and witnessing the great social injustices and economic disparities, "the question of how passion can be so fleeting and memory so short lived gnaw at me constantly." Driven to make meaningful work that address the themes of memory, guilt and forgiveness, he focuses on the enormous rift between the rich and the poor, the empowered and the disenfranchised. His emotionally charged prints depict the legacy of apartheid in South Africa and its official end in 1994, which left South Africa to cope with a conflicted social identity. While Johannesburg is his point of departure, the work has a universal significance and speaks to oppression and inequity everywhere.
Kentridge's first exhibition was a show of monoprints and he has continued to dedicate much of his time to graphic works. Unlike many artists who use printmaking as a footnote to their major endeavors, the graphic works of Kentridge have equal standing with his other mediums. Each informs and inspires the other. While the charcoal drawings are the sketchy residue of the animated filmmaking process, the graphic works are more considered and have a resolved composition. In fact, Kentridge states that the charcoal drawings came out of the etchings rather than the etchings being connected to the drawings.
The prints are often a distillation of the films as well as inspiration for them. The Sleeper image first appeared in 1996-97 as Act IV, Scene I in Ubu Tells the Truth, a group of small etchings inspired by Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, about a clown like but deadly despot. These etchings led to the theatre production of Ubu and the Truth Commission. With the Ubu etchings literally brought to life on stage, Kentridge was inspired to bring the scale of the production to paper. Working with Jack Shirreff in England, he was able to produce a series of life-size etchings. In the large Sleeper etchings (38 x 76 inches), for which Kentridge is the model, he used footprints and handprints to evoke a body that wears the history of its defeats.
Atlas Procession I and II relate strongly to the Shadow Procession film. The procession is a subject that has appeared throughout his career and ironies the traditional, triumphant friezes in classic architecture. The figures in the current large-scale processions are in a state of metamorphosis reflecting social and political change. In Atlas Procession I, the characters walk counterclockwise on the inside of a globe. Atlas Procession II reverses the direction and the characters are released to walk on the outside of the sphere. Many of the images, like the megaphone, telephone and shower, are recurring themes within the films.
I will also be showing two enormous linocuts: "Man Turning Into a Tree" and "Woman Turning into a Telephone." The scale of these works (Man is 99 x 40 inches; Woman is 89 x 47 inches) is astounding and they are being produced in South Africa by a small press. These larger than life figures march across a low horizon. Man Turning Into a Tree is one of the figures in Procession I while the telephone found there had not yet become a woman.
Casspirs in Love is a powerful image of severed heads encased in a box. Casspirs were military riot control vehicles used by South African military in border wars and to contain internal uprisings in the townships. Kentridge heard a radio message from a mother and father to their son wishing him "Casspirs full of love" and the collision of these disparate images inspired this large etching.
In addition to the large-scale works, a series of 8 etchings entitled "Zeno at 4am" will be shown for the first time. These images of the individual figures in the procession refer to a theatre piece of the same name which will open soon in Brussels and come to New York in November. I will also be showing other intimate lithographs and etchings, many of which are mounted on book pages and hand-worked by the artist.
A major exhibition of the work of William Kentridge will open at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York on June 1st following its inception at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. After the New Museum, the exhibition will then travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa.
For more information please contact Gracie Mansion Gallery.