16 May 2015 Archived
Important South African and International Art, Johannesburg, Lot 258
Quotation is deeply woven into the fabric of William Kentridge’s output as an artist, his collected work representing a sustained dialogue with what he in 2012 described as the ‘universal archive’.1 Anonymous news photographs, an image by Max Beckman, an idea from Theodor Adorno, postcards, Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised monument to the Third International (1920), a family snapshot: these and countless other visual sources have been synthesised into his highly original practice. This particular work exemplifies his manner of recomposing art history. The work variously and suggestively reinterprets Goya and Otto Dix’s landscapes alongside Eugène Delacroix’s description of conflict and sexuality in his painting Liberty Guiding the People (1830), without lapsing into pastiche.
A prolific artist, even before his arrival on the world stage in the late 1990s, this unique drawing highlights another aspect of Kentridge’s process-driven work: he is always in conversation with his own image archive. The man in the dinner suit and bowtie, at left, is a stock figure from the artist’s earlier drawings series, notably inDreams of Europe (1984–85) andThe Conservationists’ Ball (1985), that essayed haute bourgeois manners. It is also consistent with the ruined Highveld landscape scenes he began rendering in charcoal and pastel on paper in the late 1980s, for example inAn Embarkation (1988) and Urbanise (1989). The blank billboard, which first appeared in his 16mm film Johannesburg, Second Greatest City After Paris (1989), is a key fixture in his early ‘drawings for projection’ series of films. While cryptic, the draped figure in the foreground is in fact a variation of a dancing woman clothed in newspapers who appears in another large-scale drawing from this period, Anti-Waste (1990).2
Produced while working on his short second film, Monument (1990), the drawing does not appear in the film but explores similar themes of labour (the miner emerging from the swimming pool) and mass communication (the speakers at the naked figure’s feet).3 Kentridge also produced a smaller charcoal and pastel variant of this work, Taking in the Landscape (1990), in which the order of the two female figures (early studies of industrialist Soho Eckstein’s daughter, Liberty) are switched. His Little Morals, a series of etching from 1991, also quotes this particular drawing, albeit with a draped monument interposed into the scene.
1 William Kentridge. (2014) Six Drawing Lessons, Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Page 24.
2 William Kentridge. (1999) William Kentridge, London: Phaidon. Page 116.
3 Confirmed by the artist’s studio, 20 April 2015.