A museum-quality artwork, included in the first American survey of Kentridge’s work in 2001, Deep Pool forms part of a series of works by William Kentridge known as Colonial Landscapes (1995–1996). These landscapes constitute a shift away from his anti-epic depictions of landscapes in such works as the roughed-up Johannesburg landscapes and dystopic city edges, serving as backdrops for his stop frame animation films. He would sooner draw what he sees as arenas of social contestation caused by man’s interference than nature’s alluring topographical wonders. Kentridge’s depiction of a man-handled terrain, likewise, serves as backdrop for the theatrical production, Woyzeck on the Highveld (1992) and the molested landscapes for Felix in Exile (1994).
Colonial Landscapes is a suite of large, polished drawings made in 1995 and 1996. The inspiration behind them was a nineteenth century publication, Africa and its Exploration as Told by its Explorers (c.1907), a two-volume account of expeditions made by Livingstone, Burton and others. In prose akin to the cheery adventures of Boy’s Own annuals and with intricately engraved images of Africa’s natural splendour tracked down by the explorers, it recounts the colonial experience.
The attention to detail in the engraved topographic bookplates gave Kentridge an opportunity to work up highly polished, well-rendered drawings that define every rock formation and blade of grass. He reworked the bookplates, blowing them up in scale and animating his monochrome charcoals with measures and notations chalked in cadmium red pastel, like a surveyor’s plotting and sizings. The viewer shares a conspiratorial sense of looking in through a viewfinder, stealthily scrutinising the land before division and exploitation or embarking on a big game hunt. Kentridge talks about these marks as ‘bruising the landscape’. He intends to show that the European taste for exotic foreign lands and a new world was foolish. Alongside this, his language of motifs develops with glimpses of megaphones, distant goal posts and a diving board that hovers over a mire.1
Says Kentridge: ‘These Colonial Landscape drawings came from the work I had been doing on Faustus in Africa! The source was a 19th century volume of the diaries of “African explorers”, illustrated with engravings of the exotic other the travellers were passing through. Part of the pleasure of doing the drawings was working with the “code” of engraved marks, and playing with the mediations from the raw veld, to the sketchbook of the traveller, back to London to the professional engraving shop where the view would be re-dramatised, and engraved, to a hundred years on, looking at these now yellow pages. The new red marks are both beacons erected in the landscape and the surveyor’s theodolite markings of the image in a viewfinder.’2
1 Text drawn from Kate McCrickard (2012). Modern Artists: William Kentridge, London: Tate Publishing, pages 20–23.
2 William Kentridge (1996). Statement on Colonial Landscapes. Sydney: Annandale Gallery and Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery.
Annandale Galleries, Sydney, William Kentridge: Eidophusikon, Several Colonial Landscapes & Drawings from Faustus in Africa, 27 March 1996-20 April 1996.
Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 1997.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, William Kentridge, 28 February 2001 - 13 May 2001, catalogue number 38.
New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, William Kentridge, 3 June 2001 - 16 September 2001, catalogue number 38.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, William Kentridge, 20 October 2001 - 20 January 2002, catalogue number 38.
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, William Kentridge, 1 March 2002 - 5 May 2002, catalogue number 38.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, William Kentridge, 21 July 2002 - 6 October 2002, catalogue number 38.
South African National Gallery, Cape Town, William Kentridge, 7 December 2002- 23 March 2003, catalogue number 38.
Michael Sittenfeld (ed.) (2001). William Kentridge, Chicago and New York: Museum of Contemporary Art and New Museum of Contemporary Art. Illustrated in colour on page 106.