“The drawings of large heads and of some irises started from seeing, in Italian art shops, fantastically beautiful ground pigments and I thought well, just as objects and as colours these pigments are so remarkable that I must try to do something with them. So I brought the pigments back to Johannesburg, mixed them up and started with large areas of flat colour I painted onto sheets of paper and with these extraordinary colours, what could I make? The first thing I made was a series of drawings of irises and a series of drawings of large heads. And it wasn’t so much that suddenly I put colour into the drawings, it was rather that I had started with colour and then deformed that colour into the usual charcoal drawings I did.
When I started working on the large etchings of the Iris and of the Head, the principle of the working was similar…
It took a long time for me to be able to accept the colour in those etchings. It seemed very much too bright and too brilliant for me to deal with. And I think I do have a problem working with colour and always need to find strategies and subterfuges to bring it into the work. The torn out sheets of gouache was one way of working, flatly colouring sections of aquatint was another. All different ways to avoid the responsibility of having to put paint on the brush, and in a moment try to assess colour on a canvas in front of me.”
This text is adapted from William Kentridge’s narration of the CD-ROM, the first major publication detailing his work, published by David Krut in 1997.