Triumphs and Laments Woodcuts
In early 2016 William Kentridge was at work on a monumental frieze to be installed along the banks of Rome’s Tiber River in April of the same year. The 550 meter work would be stenciled onto the wall of the river from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Mazzini. It would be called Triumphs and Laments and would consist of scenes from the cultural and political history of Rome from drawings that Kentridge had been preparing in his studio in Johannesburg for a number of years.Read more ▼
In January 2016 Kentridge also began discussions with a long-time collaborator, Master Printer Jillian Ross of David Krut Workshop (DKW), about using these drawings as the basis for a series of large woodcut prints. Ross and her assistants Sbongiseni Khulu and Chad Cordeiro began extensive tests on a grouping of three figures from the frieze as this would be their first woodcut project with Kentridge. Over the course of the year, the printing team worked on creating and editioning the first two woodcuts in the series, Mantegna and The Flood. February 2017 saw the completion of the third woodcut, Lampedusa, and the fourth image, That which we do no remember was completed in October 2017.
Each print comes unassembled with the following contents included:
- a black linen portfolio box that houses
- an instructions manual
- a booklet on the making of each artwork
- the number of prints found in the finished work
- the number of aluminum pins found in the finished work
- two acetate sheets with registration notes (life size)
The Universal Archive
The Universal Archive began at DKW in 2012 and is made up of linocuts printed onto non-archival 1950s dictionary and encyclopaedia paper. The series contains over 70 individual images. Many of which represent recurring motifs commonly seen in Kentridge’s art, ink drawings, sculptures and stage productions. They depict everyday images, such as coffee pots, trees, cats, female nudes, typewriters, horses and birds.Read more ▼
Kentridge is known for his work in printmaking, particularly linocut – the medium in which the Universal Archive is produced, wherein gestural marks are achieved with an astounding likeness to an ink drawing. The prints began as simple Indian ink drawings, for which Kentridge used what he calls a “good brush” and a “bad brush”. The former refers to the pristine new brush, which gives perfectly intentional lines. The latter has damaged, splayed bristles which gives a less certain mark. It is the worn, mistreated brush that artists tend to discard but Kentridge embraces for its individual qualities.
The drawings were initially converted to linocut prints through meticulous hand-carving methods, requiring a dedicated team over a four-year period with each print taking 20-30 hours. The near-identical replication of Kentridge’s free-hand brush strokes makes for unexpected nuance at the level of technical achievement. Ross points out the influence of Japanese art in the series when looking at the quality of line, which has a Japanese-style brush-stroke.When the series expanded, a photo-transfer process was adopted.Ross speaks of the exacting process as “a giant puzzle constantly solving”. The project required a team of ten to carve the motifs of the coffee pot prints took two years to complete.
The decision to use non-archival paper is an unusual one in printmaking. The thin dictionary paper discolours over time; this was deliberately chosen by Kentridge for its unfixed nature. The dictionary paper resists the ink, which creates a glossy glow on its surface. The dictionary paper serves as a reference, a tribute even, to a forgotten “old-world” method of accessing information now that the Internet has become so prevalant.
The images in the Universal Archive are familiar but abstracted in form – resembling a person and a coffee pot simultaneously. This merging of objects relates to the artist’s skepticism towards certainty in creative processes. Image mis/identification is core to Kentridge’s practice and is richly explored in this series. If the printed image is not rendered overtly ambiguous, like the ‘coffee pot man’, varying depictions (or deconstructions) of one image, such as a typewriter, are grouped together. In this instance, the recurring image moves from an unquestionable portrayal of the object to a collection of loose lines, which merely suggest the original form. The process by which the viewer projects meaning is sincerely rattled.
Ross, who has worked with Kentridge since the early 2000s, headed the printing process. She stresses that an in-depth understanding of the series requires knowledge in the multiplicity of Kentridge’s projects where the same imagery recurs in varying forms. “Because he often works on a number of projects at once, his ideas for one project tend to fuel another. Images that you see in Universal Archive overlap considerably across many mediums.” Ross adds that she sees the title as “a reference to his personal ‘universal archive’ – the themes and images that he repeatedly draws on to animate his work.” Ross indicates that it is important to note that most artists approach printmaking as a secondary medium while Kentridge treats it as tool to continually develop and improve his practice.
In December 2006 DKW, under the guidance of printmaker Jillian Ross, began collaborating with William Kentridge on a series of prints. These prints elaborated on Kentridge’s work designing and directing the Shostakovich opera The Nose; commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the opera would premiere in March 2010. Shostakovich’s opera is based on one of the most famous stories in Russian literature, Nikolai Gogol’s ‘The Nose’, published in 1837. The story follows the adventures of the pompous government official Kovalyov who wakes up one day to find that his nose has left his face and gone walking around St Petersburg.Read more ▼
In his interpretation of Gogol and Shostakovich, Kentridge has projected the story forward to the 1917 Russian Revolution and the Russian avant-garde, and then into the twentieth century to include allusions to Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. But he has also cast his eye back to consider some of the literary influences on Gogol such as Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and even Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Drawing on these and other texts, including excerpts from Russian newspapers, clips from Russian films of the twenties and thirties, pages from Russian encyclopaedias, and parts of a transcript of a 1937 meeting of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in which the theoretician Nikolai Bukharin is being interrogated, Kentridge is creating not only his opera production but several other works.
The prints, now simply titled ‘Nose’, were imagined as the journey of the Nose not only with Kovalyov, but through Russian history. They reflect on music, ballet, the history of Western art (Russian and otherwise) and the various fortunes of the Communist party in its Soviet and South African incarnations. Kentridge’s process and choice of working through print is intrinsic to his practice contributing and responding to his other work as whole.
Nose is a suite of thirty prints, each measuring roughly 15 x 20 cm (5 x 8 in). The prints explore a number of techniques but rely primarily on Kentridge’s strong drypoint marks, softened by sugarlift aquatint and punctuated, in several plates, by a strong Constructivist red. Each plate is engraved with a number signalling its place in the series. There are fifty prints in each edition and they have been editioned by Jillian Ross, Niall Bingham and Mlungisi Kongisa.
Please note the following works are only available as part of the complete set of thirty prints: Nose 1,3,7,9,26,29 and 30.
West Coast Series
Early in 2010, Kentridge spent a few days visiting vineyards in the Swartland and the Olifants River region up the West Coast of South Africa. Two of South Africa’s rarest wines are made from vines planted around 1900 in this area They form a collection of six wines being made by Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines, a small, prestigious winery based in the southern Swartland, inland from Elands Bay on the Cape West Coast. The collection will be called the Ouwingerdreeks (Old Vine Series), the labels for which were created by William Kentridge. During the tour of the vineyards the artist learned some viticultural skills – principles of suckering, removing unwanted early-season growth in the remote old vineyard on the farm Voetpad. Skurfberg mountain.Read more ▼
The six labels are a combination of inkwash drawings and collage. Alongside these drawings Kentridge created a series of five etchings that build upon and modify the imagery of the labels. These etchings were originated by the artist in collaboration with Master Printer Jillian Ross and David Krut Workshop (DKW), and editioned by Ross and her assistants.
The images of the prints were inspired by the visual and historical landscape of the Swartland region, and other valleys far up the West Coast in the Olifants Rivier region, where the vines are located. The prints were created through the full utilisation of techniques of delicate drypoint lines swirl through washes and splashes of pale grey spitbite aquatint, combined with the deep and solid marks of sugarlift aquatint and hardground etched lines. Handpainting, burnishing and the attachment of fragile chine collé resolve the prints.
The imagery of the prints will be familiar to followers of Kentridge’s work. The humanised objects proceeding across the landscape are reminiscent of works such as Portage (2000) and those of L’Insorabile Avanzata (2007), while reimagining these object-figures within the landscape of the Swartland and the tools of wine-making: the secateurs that cut the fattened bunches of grapes from the vines, and the windmill that pumps life-giving water to the maturing vines. Alongside these two figures there is a third: the world marching through the landscape on electric pylon legs. The two remaining images in the series re-imagine images that have appeared with Kentridge’s oeuvre previously: a South African landscape rich in connotations of colonization and embodied history, and a nude figure, gazed upon by the viewer as she undress within the encircling arms of an imposing black chair.
Read Wine writer Tim James’s article about his experience of the visit to the Swartlands with Kentridge, Sadie and Kruger.
All other prints
This selection lists all of the editioned work by William Kentridge that are not in selected series.Read more ▼
William Kentridge (b.1955) is a multidisciplinary South African artist – a printmaker, a director of the theatre and opera, a draftsman and an animation filmmaker. One might call him a maverick of the arts for the unparalleled ways in which he combines old and new artistic mediums, such as film and charcoal. While he does not define as a “political artist” per se, Kentridge is widely regarded as a go-to contemporary South African artist whose work is not limited to but cannot be detached from his country’s recent history and fraught present. For example, Kentridge is conscious of, but not burdened by, the colonial history of linocut printmaking in Africa, where the medium was introduced in the 1960s under the influence of German expressionism, which was, in turn, inspired by African mask-making.
His reading of ‘Politics and African History’ while studying at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg inspired the rejection of the traditionalist position from which art was taught at the time in South Africa. In his own words, he was told that “to be an artist was to paint with oil on canvas”. He took evening classes in etching, through which he started to grow as a visual artist who largely deals in black and white.
While many artists dabble in printmaking on the side of their practice, Kentridge is a modern pioneer in the medium – drawings and theatre projects regularly emerge from his prints. For Kentridge, printmaking is in itself a multi-disciplinary practice. He says that “there is also a way of thinking of an etching as an extraordinary, ridiculously complicated form of animation, different states of the plate when you know that you will rework them”.
Kentridge's most recent projects include: a solo exhibition hosted by The Fairfield University Art Museum – in Connecticut titled William Kentridge: Universal Archive.
Boston’s Emerson College hosts a solo exhibition of the ‘Triumphs and Laments’ project (February to April 2018)
This selection lists an archive of editioned work by William Kentridge.
The relationship between William Kentridge and David Krut began in 1992, when the pair met casually at the opening of an exhibition at The Market Theatre Gallery in Johannesburg. Kentridge was due to visit London for his first exhibition of drawings and prints at the Vanessa Devereaux Gallery in the Portobello Road area of London. Krut, who was based in London at the time, had developed a working relationship with master printer Jack Shirreff dating back to 1981 and he invited Kentridge to visit Shirreff at his 107 Workshop in Wiltshire to explore making very large copper plates, which would allow the artist to create editioned work on a scale that was not available to him in South Africa.
From that point on, Krut became one of Kentridge’s primary publishers, working with him on print editions as well as book and other publications. Some of the early publications include the iconic large-scale Heads series, the General and Iris prints; the HMV series, the Baedecker series and Atlas Procession series. In 1998, Krut was the first to bring Kentridge’s work to the USA in exhibition in Chicago, through which Kentridge’s work was placed in many important museum collection, including the Museum of Modern Art. Krut continued this promotional activity with exhibitions in the USA, including in New York and Washington, throughout late-1990s and early-2000s.
After Krut established his own print workshop in Johannesburg in 2002, Kentridge became a frequent collaborator with Master Printer Jillian Ross (and before her, Randy Hemminghaus) and her team at David Krut Workshop (DKW). Kentridge has worked with DKW on various large-scale print series including the Nose series from 2006-10, The Universal Archive from 2012-16 and the Triumphs and Laments woodcut series from 2016-19. Other collaborations include the Magic Flute series, Zeno Writing and various other prints that were created alongside Kentridge’s ongoing theatre and film productions.
In 1997, the first major publication on Kentridge’s work was published in CD-ROM format by David Krut. Since then, David Krut Publishing has released numerous books about the artist’s work, including William Kentridge Prints in 2006, which is the first book to give an overview of Kentridge’s printmaking career up to that point.
In total, David Krut has published more than 300 print editions with Kentridge. Kentridge has had more than eight solo exhibitions with DKP and been included in many group exhibitions in Johannesburg, Cape Town and New York over the years.
Kentridge, who was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a multidisciplinary artist – a printmaker, a director of theatre and opera, a draughtsman and an animation filmmaker. One might call him a maverick of the arts for the unparalleled ways in which he combines old and new artistic mediums, such as film and charcoal. While he does not define himself as a “political artist”, Kentridge is widely regarded as the go-to contemporary South African artist whose work cannot be detached from his country’s recent history and fraught present.
While many artists dabble in printmaking on the side of their practice, Kentridge is a modern pioneer in the medium – drawings and theatre projects regularly emerge from his prints, and vice versa. For Kentridge, printmaking is in itself a multi-disciplinary practice, considering an “etching as an extraordinary, ridiculously complicated form of animation,” knowing that a single plate will constantly be reworked, resulting in several different states.
One of the key characteristics of Kentridge’s practice is the inter-relatedness of his various forms of work. Often he is working on a multitude of projects simultaneously and so the works on one medium inform works in another, and there are strands of narrative running from project to project. When he is producing an opera, it’s probable that he is doing some drawings and prints on the way. The Nose series, for instance, was inspired by the adaptation of Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose, that Kentridge did for Metropolitan Opera New York, and contains traces of that as well as the previous opera – Mozart’s The Magic Flute – print projects, such as L’Avanzata Inesorabile, and projects yet to come.
As the winner of countless awards and honorary titles, Kentridge is considered one of the most important artists working today. His extraordinary range is acknowledged and credited for having “followed its own unique path, irrespective of contemporary fashions” (Ben Eastham for Apollo, vol. 182, no. 637, Dec 2015).
Kentridge’s work is placed in hundreds of collections worldwide.
Related blog posts: