Prints of the Month | March 2020 | William Kentridge | Unpacking woodcuts on chine collé | ‘God’s Opinion is Unknown’ and ‘Leaning on Air’

After 3 years and towards the completion of the 6th and last image in the large-scale woodcut series Triumphs and Laments Woodcuts, two of William Kentridge’s repeated phrases stood out and were worth highlighting. These 2 text pieces are the highlighted notes. The larger work they refer to, Refugees (a diptych), is an image of 6 figures, in procession, carrying different sets of personal belongings (image and description below).

Williams Kentridge, 2019. Woodcut on Kitakata, mounted to backing sheet of Arches cover white, 300 gsm. Edition of 18. Image size: 21.7 x 69.5 cm. Paper size: 29.5 x 76.5 cm

The image Kentridge used as reference (for the large-scale work) was from the 2012 newspaper photograph of migrants from Rwanda, like many other images found then and since that represent migrants from any number of countries.

These 2 text pieces were made to highlight both the beauty found in the nature of the woodgrains used and in general, but also to emphasize the text found within the larger works. Instead of re-printing them onto the same paper used for the large, collaged works, a series of tests on thinner, more delicate paper – Kitakata. This is a 30 – 36 gsm phillipine gampi paper with deckle edges (the ragged or feathered edge on papers). Referencing back to how the Universal Archive series were created by being hinged only at the top of the page, these works float freely. They dangle, like the phrases or the people, they may be taking about.

Paper deckles here are prominent and kept intact allowing the woodcut grain to print over them. Two sheets of paper sit side-by-side and float freely in Leaning on Air whereas God’s Opinion is Unknown is kept on one page. Further to add, the looseness of the sheet mimics the way the larger works are pinned together which allows the sheets of paper to lie naturally.

Text pieces were created by Kentridge in collaboration with Master printer Jillian Ross, printed by Sbongiseni Khulu and assisted by Kim-Lee Loggenberg.

Image of large-scale woodcut : Refugees, 2019. Edition of 12.

The large work, Refugees diptych (featured above) created and completed by June 2019, is made from 26 woodblocks, on 77 individual sheets of paper, adhered by 136 aluminum pins.

Background information:

In 2016, William Kentridge began work on what is now a 550m frieze on the wall of the Tiber River in Rome. Spanning from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Mazzini, Triumphs and Laments is a breathtakingly immense, historical and political work by Kentridge who had been preparing drawings for this project several years prior. Following this, and alongside the David Krut Workshop, Kentridge created the Triumphs and Laments Woodcut Series, which saw the editioning of woodcut prints from these drawings and what brings us to our chosen print(s) of the month. Work began on Refugees in October 2018 and marked the first work in the series to be created in two parts. Collectively titled, Refugees (1 God’s Opinion is Unknown; 2 Leaning on Air). If referring to one part separate from the whole, the single figure (the fifth woodcut) is titled God’s Opinion is Unknown. The group of figures (the sixth woodcut) is titled Leaning on Air. Both titles derive from the text used within each woodcut.

God’s Opinion is Unknown and Leaning on Air was printed at David Krut Workshop at Arts on Main, by Master Printer, Jillian Ross, Sbongiseni Khulu, Chad Cordeiro and Sarah Hunkin, and assisted by Pebofatso Mokoena, Diego Silands and Lisa Cloete (carving); Alan Epstein (carpentry); Roxy Kaczmarek (post-production).

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