By Nii B. Andrews.
Over the last four decades, William Kentridge an African polymath, has established himself as a prolific artist of undeniable global repute.
His portfolio spans tapestry, theatre, opera, dance, music, etching, drawing, collage, film and sculpture.
The subject matter is often anchored in the ghosts of the past always haunting the present – and there are no sacred cows.
Not surprisingly, Kentridge who was born in apartheid South Africa in 1955, has chronicled the changes in his homeland in a striking way and from a unique perspective.
His solid formal/ informal education credentials and exposure (the son of activist lawyers who defended freedom fighters) fostered in him an abiding interest and understanding of literature, history, music, philosophy and the spirit of rigorous scientific enquiry.
He has been described as an artist for the future; an unshakable and resolute pundit who points out the limits of human intervention.
There have been numerous exhibitions of his work in leading institutions on many continents over several decades.
He has produced large-scale coloured etchings – some range over 200 cm high – and these are counted among his most impactful, captivating and masterly works.
There have been black-and-white sketches processed through different media that he turned into complex constructions.
Yet the inspiration for this modern approach comes from old masters: “The root of my work is connected to printmaking – the great printmakers, Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya – in which black and white is the norm,” he explains.
From this imagery, Kentridge transcends the boundaries of a museum.
For example, in 2012, his lecture performances of his work “Six Drawing Lessons”, combined autobiographical, artistic and political backgrounds and collected the different themes of his oeuvre, from the earliest days to the present.
Azu Nwagbo who curated a Kentridge landmark exhibition at the Zeitz MOCAA in 2019, has stated that the artist spent “sleepless nights ruminating and staying with an idea. Image making through a process that begins with mark making or drawing to construct a visual history of the world.”
Furthermore, Kentridge’s international acclaim is strengthened by the uniqueness of his work – “His dance with both heavy and light art material, as well as his fusion of traditional and technological practice”, wrote Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor.
The sweep of his artistic vision and practice is unambiguously inclusive and predicated on a relentless critique of history, and this behemoth mostly delivers his punches with deft strokes of his charcoal stick.
Kentridge has stated with unalloyed conviction that, “Art must defend the uncertain”. For him, art is a practical activity; an embodiment of an idea in a physical activity.
The Royal Academy of Arts in London from September 2022 is hosting a major Kentridge exhibition – the first of its scale in the UK.
In the auction houses and galleries, collectors can still find his prints and original drawings for sale from all stages of his career.
Edition sizes for his prints tend to be quite small and small etchings start from around £3,000 (? now around USD 3000); record prices are being paid for his work.
The auction house – Bonhams, will in November, hold “A Focus on William Kentridge” auction.
Yet again, Giles Peppiatt, Modern & Contemporary African Art Director at Bonhams reminds collectors of all artistic work: ‘The most important question collectors should ask themselves is “Do I like it, do I want it ?”, not “Should I buy it?”’.
This resonates specifically with the work of Kentridge as his art has focused relentlessly on the uncertainty of life – a relevant theme for this turbulent epoch.