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Creative Icon: William Kentridge

William Kentridge is not only known for his distinct charcoal drawings and prints, but also for his unique animated films, his theatre work with the Handspring Puppet Company, his tapestry collaboration, as well as his public art, his sculptures and of course video and sound installations. His collaboration with Rand Merchant Bank on The Magic Flute proves that, although great minds don’t always think alike, when like minds come together, magic can happen.

William Kentridge created the stage design and acted as a theatre director for his opera work. The first opera staging by Kentridge was of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – The Return of Ulysses with the Handspring Puppet Company. In this rendition of Monteverdi’s work as a chamber piece, Ulysses is no longer in Ithaca. Lying in a Johannesburg hospital, he is a frail man hanging on to life and remembering the epic of the Greek hero in his dreams.

His production of Mozart’s Magic Flute in 2007 was brought – with great success – by Rand Merchant Bank to South Africa and is still considered one of the best South African stage productions ever. The production was hailed as an exuberant dialogue between drawing and music, a three-dimensional work of art with video projected across and around the human figures onstage.

William Kentridge’s first collaboration with The Metropolitan Opera in New York was Shostakovich’s The Nose in 2010 and the Met has just announced that they will be staging Alban Berg’s Lulu in November 2015, ‘Acclaimed artist and director William Kentridge applies his unique theatrical vision to Berg’s notorious femme fatale who shatters lives, including her own. Musically, the masterful score is in the sure hands of Met Music Director James Levine. Soprano Marlis Petersen has excited audiences around the world with her portrayal of the tour-de-force title role, a wild journey of love, obsession, and death.’

William Kentridge’s filmed drawings, or drawn films, according to Lilian Tone, inhabit a curious state of suspension between static to time-based, from stillness to movement. These ‘drawings in motion’ undergo constant change and constant redefinition, while the projection of their luscious charcoal surfaces somehow retains an almost tangible tactility. Smoky grounds and rough-hewn marks morph into an incessant, though not seamless, flow of free association that evokes the fleeting hypnagogic images that precede sleep. Bodies melt into landscape; a cat turns into a typewriter, into a reel-to-reel recorder, into a bomb; full becomes void with the sweep of a sleeve. The allure of Kentridge’s animations lies in their unequivocal reliance on the continuing present, in the uncanny sense of artistic creation and audience reception happening at once.

The result is a projected charcoal drawing where the line unfolds mysteriously on the screen, with a will of its own, the artist’s hand unseen.

William Kentridge’s theatre work with the Handspring Puppet Company includes Zeno at 4am, where Zeno has perfect self-knowledge but is ineffective in applying this.

Confessions of Zeno explores the worlds of work and of erotic pleasure that sustain the life of the modern European bourgeoisie in the years before the outbreak of World War I. Ubu and the Truth Commission is based on the hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and combines puppetry, performance by live actors, music, animation and documentary footage. Faustus in Africa is based on the legend of Faust, 16th-century learned scholar who squandered his fortune and then sold his soul to the devil in exchange for additional time to search for the meaning of existence through travel and indulgences. Woyzeck on the Highveld is an adaptation of German writer Georg Buchner’s famous play of jealousy, murder and the struggle of an ordinary man against an uncaring society which eventually destroys him.

William Kentridge: Tapestries – A Collaboration with Stephens’ Tapestry Studio is an extraordinary collection of tapestries, created in conjunction with Marguerite Stephens’ weaving studio and shown recently at The Wits Art Museum. Stephens and Kentridge have been working together on tapestries for the past 24 years. About 40 tapestries have emerged from this longstanding collaboration between the two studios, in which Stephens translates and upscales the artist’s collage drawings for the very different materials and techniques of tapestry-making.

Looking at just some of the announcements around Kentridge, it looks as though 2015, which started with the Design Indaba and The Refusal of Time in Cape Town during February, is another very busy year for the artist. In the Netherlands, EYE presents If We Ever Get to Heaven (April – August 2015), an extensive exhibition featuring a number of installations by Kentridge and the newly developed More Sweetly Play the Dance, a frieze of moving images measuring some 45 metres in length.

William Kentridge’s latest project, according to Artnet, will transform the banks of Rome’s river Tiber into a crazy-long work of art. Drawings for his 550-metre mural, Triumphs and Lements will be opening with live music composed by Philip Miller and videos projected onto the facade of the museum. The frieze will include more than 90 figures, each up to 9 metres tall, narrating the city’s 2 000-year history in a silhouetted succession that will span from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Mazzini on Piazza Tevere. The images will be formed by erasing the accumulated dirt from the embankment walls and will subsequently become gradually obscured once again by the renewed build-up of grime. Throughout the duration of the piece, from 2015 to 2016, there will also be multi-disciplinary public performances using the frieze as a backdrop.

All by an artist who thinks differently and, in doing so, has built a brand that is continually associated with innovation, creativity and the highest of standards.


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