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Exhibition presents new works on paper by South African artist William Kentridge
Six Birds. 2012. From Universal Archive series. Linocut printed on non-archival pages from Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 28 1/2” x 31”. Image courtesy of Gund Gallery, Kenyon College, and David Krut Projects, Johannesburg/New York.


FAIRFIELD, CONN.- The Fairfield University Art Museum is presenting William Kentridge: Universal Archive, on view through Saturday, May 19, 2018, in the museum’s Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center for Arts, on the campus of Fairfield University.

The exhibition presents new works on paper by renowned South African artist William Kentridge (b. 1955), inspired during the writing of his Norton Lectures, which he delivered at Harvard University in 2012. In more than 75 linocut prints based on ink sketches and printed on dictionary and encyclopedia pages, Kentridge revisits a familiar personal iconography, including coffee pots, typewriters, cats, trees, nudes and other imagery, exploring a thematic repertoire that has appeared in art and stage productions throughout his long career. The prints, which shift from identifiable subject matter to deconstructed images of abstract marks, form juxtapositions with the underlying text that suggest skepticism about the creative process and knowledge construction.

Born in Johannesburg, Kentridge displayed prodigious artistic talent from a young age. After graduating with a diploma in Fine Arts from Johannesburg Art Foundation, he subsequently studied theater in Paris, though, as he frequently notes in interviews, his lack of acting ability left him “reduced to being an artist.” While working in television and film as an art director, Kentridge began developing a studio practice as a draftsman and printmaker, and became known for his innovative animations, created by filming his drawings through a process of erasure, revision, and movement. He has also worked in sculpture and tapestry design. In the world of opera, Kentridge has attracted widespread praise as a stage designer and theater director, including a production of Alban Berg’s Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2015, and Berg’s Wozzack at the Salzburg Festival in 2017. In 2016, he designed Triumphs and Laments, a monumental, 1800-foot-long mural along the banks of the Tiber River in Rome formed of more than 80 silhouettes based on his charcoal drawings. Kentridge’s work has also appeared in countless major international exhibitions, and is in the collection of museums worldwide including MoMA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and Tate Modern.

Together with charcoal drawing, printmaking forms the core of Kentridge’s studio practice. Since the 1970s he has made over 300 prints utilizing a range of techniques, including etching, drypoint, engraving, silkscreen, lithography, and linocut. Unlike the act of drawing, in which the artist’s engagement with the support is mediated only through the hand and eye, the act of printmaking involves the surprising intrusion of an outside force—the mechanical act that creates the print, not only reversing the drawn image, but also potentially introducing unexpected changes. As Kentridge explained in 2010, “at the other side of the press is a version of your drawing that is different to the marks originally made. A separation, as if some other hand had made the print.”

In 2012, Kentridge held the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton lectureship at Harvard University. In the lectures entitled Six Drawing Lessons, the artist likened his drawing for a print to a “hypothesis,” and the printing press to “a primitive machine for logic.” Rather than follow a predetermined course, the roles played by chance and failure are recurring themes in Kentridge’s discussion of his studio practice. If the result (the “proof,” in both senses of the world) “does not hold out,” he explained, “the proposition must be altered, the plate reworked, sent back through the rollers to reveal a new proof.”

Inspired by these lectures, the works in William Kentridge: Universal Archive began as drawings in India ink, executed using both what the artist calls a “good brush” as well as a “bad brush,” one with damaged bristles that produced less controlled marks. Together with his printing team, Kentridge then translated the drawings into linocuts, a technique capable of capturing the fluidity of line in a manner similar to that of drawing. In the resulting prints, trees birds, coffee pots and cats—each brought to life by thick, calligraphic lines—gambol over pages plucked from Encyclopedia Britannica and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The juxtapositions of image and text produces encounters that range from the playful to the melancholy, and which challenge the primacy of traditional (and now perhaps outdated) forms of creating and storing knowledge.





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