Thursday, 7 November 2013

A UNIVERSAL ARCHIVE: William Kentridge as Printmaker - Peninsula Arts Gallery-Roland Levinsky Building -Plymouth University November 7 2013

Scribble Cat, 2012

There are artists who though they may use their work to portray characters and concepts still seek to remove any touch or inference from their own hand, and then there are those whose own hand is visible and evident in all their representations, be they of people, objects or even when they are working with abstractions and landscapes. Kentridge, here as printmaker, is firmly from the second camp, one whose hand is everywhere. He strides thorough this collection theatrically like one of his giant pylon legged characters, scattering his magic like, font laden confetti, a modern day Geppeto imbuing his work with the gift of motion, each silhouette or shadow, crackling with the busy hubris of life. You can tell that he is also an animator, and that as a set designer he understands both magic and show business, and his recurrent themes seem to be projection,processions, spinning circles, (33rpm vinyl records or 1000 mph globes),cats and the mechanical ephemera of yesterday.

Just as the outer edge of 33rpm record moves faster than the inner grooves, the South African Maestro reveals a calm inner spindle around which a seemingly chaotic bundle of characters and ideas are thrown out in all directions. He clearly loves paper and the page, and so deep is his devotion to printmaking that he often uses printed pages of text, ( along with vinyl records and maps) as the background upon which to impose his magnificent menagerie.

 Living Language Trees, 1999

Kentridge has said that his interest in the procession was sparked by Goya’s Procession of the Holy Office one of the black paintings replacing the murals in Quinta Del Sordo (the house of the deaf man) and while his procession avoids the problem of growing shadows from a forward marching group by transposing the travellers to a lateral plane, he does much to enlighten us in this illuminating exhibition. To understand Kentridge it is not essential that you have seen his animations or stage sets but it helps. 

Portage, 2000

For him art is there to arrive at a meaning without logic and reasoning, through signs and signals. Stupidity and crudity are for him necessary qualities to employ in the studio, not because of some wilful ignorance, but because he truly understands light and shadow and how it both distorts and reveals the world. We are participants in the show, for that is what exhibitions, however static they may be, are, and here we meet the artist and his art halfway. We cannot help but draw movement from the images because it is what they are in essence. The glyphs that populate his pages are concentrated reductions not reproductions. 

Twelve Coffee Pots, 2012

This is clearly demonstrated in 12 Coffee Pots where the figure that Kentridge has seen all along in the shape of the coffee pot is gradually revealed and then disappears again. He wants us not just to look at the image of the person he sees in the pot, but to join him in this journey. He is well aware that the artist is also a viewer and that self critical analysis is not a static thing. Constant re-evaluation may be a reason that artists often return to the same themes, forever trying to capture the elusive central nature of an object, it's soul, but he senses too that the real art lays in not just being able to strip away as much of unnecessary detail and leave in just a few marks, the unmistakable essence of it. No what really sets him apart is the ability to recognise that this gap, between an object and it's representation is where the energy lies, and not only that he affords us as viewers the courtesy of space in which to draw our own inferences. We have seen the familiar objects that he sees and we project our own interpretation back onto the image in front of us. Kentridge is aware of this shared space and the universal archive that he presents us with is all about light, projection, shadows and silhouettes. 

 The Nose 29, 2007-2009

He has spoken of the typewriter as "a projector of the written word"  and the tearing motion of removing paper from it is not so dissimilar from the action he uses is fashioning torn black assemblages and pinning them together in his magical animations. You can see these edges in much of the sometimes hilarious sketches and mock ups for his set design on Shostakovich's "The Nose", the figures traipsing across Portage and in the large imposing lino cuts of Walking man and Telephone Lady.

Telephone Lady, 2001
Walking Man, 2000

There is much kinetic energy here and a real sense of the South Africans' enigmatic personality leaps off the pages on which it is printed, and into that space within us all where we conjure up images. He is a great showman, but also a scholar and craftsman, and for all his knowledge and insight he is still not above meeting the viewer halfway. For that you can only applaud him and I for one look forward to what he does next.

 (Scenes from ) Ubu tells the truth, 1996-7

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