Contemporary Art

Live Virtual Auction, 15 February 2020

Contemporary Art
  • William Kentridge; Fish and Chips

Lot Estimate
ZAR 2 000 000 - 2 500 000

About this Item

South African 1955-
Fish and Chips


charcoal, pastel and gold ink on paper
143,5 by 86,5cm excluding frame


In 1986, while still living in Bertrams, Johannesburg, Kentridge produced a print portfolio loosely based on William Hogarth’s engravings series Industry and Idleness (1747). Kentridge’s portfolio shares the same name and includes a satirical portrait of a grizzled drunk in heavy coat and sash who becomes the “Lord Mayor of Derby Road”. Kentridge modelled this figure on a homeless man who drank methylated spirits and lived with a group of outcasts near his home.1 Sometimes referred to as “Harry” in writings, lectures and interviews, he was a recurring figure in Kentridge’s early drawings, most notably Fire Carrier (1986-87), included in his current Zeitz MOCAA retrospective (in a room devoted to early prints and drawings). Harry also appears in the animated films Monument (1990) and Woyzeck on the Highveld (1992), as well as Kentridge’s 1991 etchings series, Little Morals.

In 1990, while preparing for two concurrent solo exhibitions in Johannesburg, Kentridge spoke of a recent visit by Harry to his home: “… he was dressed in a Salvation Army general’s jacket complete with sashes and epaulettes, as if he were dressed to model for Goya. You sometimes get these moments of confirmation, reassurances that what you are doing is not completely up the wall.”2 While based on a real-world encounter, this undated drawing is also highly stylised: it is fabulist’s version of the truth. Any social commentary here is contingent on an appreciation that the figure of the drunk is also a modern stand-in for the clown, a long-established trope in art. “I’m essentially interested in an art that is political but which allows an ambiguous politics, an art that encompasses as many ambiguities and contradictions as there are,” remarked Kentridge in a 1990 interview in which he discussed Harry.3


1. Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (2006) William Kentridge Prints, Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. Page 30.

2. Ivor Powell (1990) ‘Kentridge’s Free-floating Art of Ambiguities’, Weekly Mail, 26 April 1990. Page 23.

3. Ibid. Page 23.


Strauss & Co, Johannesburg, 9 November 2015, lot 282. 

Private Collection.


cf. Alan Crump and Elza Miles (1987) William Kentridge, Grahamstown: 1820 Foundation. A similar example, The General from Derby Road to Ellis Park, is illustrated, unpaginated.
cf. Sven Christian and Anne McIlleron (2019) William Kentridge: Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work. Zeitz MOCAA/Koenig Books: Cape Town. A similar example, Fire Carrier, 1986-7, is illustrated on page 216.

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