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Drawn from Africa: National Gallery of Australia opens an exhibition devoted to the artist William Kentridge
William Kentridge, Reeds 1996. Intaglio. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The Poynton Bequest 2013.

CANBERRA.- The National Gallery of Australia yetserday opened William Kentridge: Drawn from Africa an exhibition devoted to the artist, William Kentridge.

Kentridge is an exceptional South African contemporary artist whose works are inspired by some of the most topical subjects in South African society and politics. Kentridge is a brilliant practitioner in a variety of media such as film, tapestry design, drawing and printmaking. The National Gallery has been collecting the work of Kentridge for the nation and this exhibition will reveal the breadth of the Gallery’s holdings to the Australian public.

Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg. From the 1950s, Kentridge’s mother and father were both actively involved in supporting South Africa’s anti-apartheid activists and his family’s involvement in these injustices played an important role in his development and informed his work as a gifted figurative artist. In this context, Kentridge considered abstract art and conceptual art ‘an impossible activity’ in South Africa.

‘Much of what was contemporary in Europe and America during the 1960s and 1970s seemed distant and incomprehensible to me. Images became familiar from exhibitions and publications but the impulses behind the work did not make the transcontinental jump to South Africa,’ he says.

‘Kentridge’s art belongs to a tradition of some of the great figurative artists of the past such as William Hogarth, Francisco Goya and Honoré Daumier as well as the German Expressionists Max Beckmann and George Grosz. These artists created powerful imagery that explored the social conditions of their time. While Kentridge follows in their footsteps, he also develops imagery of subtlety and imagination’ said Jane Kinsman, Senior Curator, International Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Australia.

As he matured, Kentridge addressed political subjects but not in a strident way. There is a remarkable lightness of touch, a subtlety that is enhanced by juxtaposition, metaphor, irony and a sense of the absurd or of humour. He ignores conventional artistic categories and maintaining a fluid process of making art is important to him. Drawing in charcoal in particular was an ideal medium as adding to and subtracting from compositions provided Kentridge with the ability to explore his subjects without finality. The process also facilitated his hand-drawn films which he erased and augmented his drawings during the process of filming. In this way, Kentridge is able to remodel, dismantle or dissolve his subjects as he develops his imagery over time.

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