Drawing from Stereoscope 1999
Charcoal and pastel on paper

Drawings from Stereoscope 1999
Charcoal and pastel on paper

Drawing from Weighing ...
and Wanting
Charcoal and pastel on paper

Ubu and the Truth Commission
Performance in Weimar, 1997,
with Dawid Minnaar as Ubu

Act IV Scene 7
From the 'Ubu Tells the
Truth' series, 1996-97
Hardground, softground,
acquatint, drypoint and
26.3 x 30cm

The Ten Doctors
From 'The History of
the Main Complaint' 1996
Charcoal on paper

Memory and Geography 1995
Multi-media project in
collaboration with Doris Bloom

Faustus in Africa!
Poster for the production
at the Market Theatre in 1995

Drawing from Felix in Exile 1994
Charcoal and pastel on paper
120 x 150cm

William Kentridge


A feature on an artist in the public eye

William Kentridge
(May, 1999)

Modus operandi:

William Kentridge is undoubtedly the best known South African artist, currently in demand by major institutions all over the world. Working with what is in essence a very restricted technique - charcoal drawings with limited touches of pastel colour - Kentridge has deployed these drawings into an oeuvre of astounding depth. The drawings have been used as the basis for a series of animated films by the very simple technique of drawing, filming a few frames, erasing, then drawing some more and so on.

Conceptually, too, Kentridge has worked from a fixed point: a reflection of his life and surroundings in Johannesburg. From this centre, Kentridge has worked outwards, turning the videos into the backdrops for astonishing and magical theatrical productions, collaborations with the Handspring Puppet Company, animated with three-quarter life-size wooden puppets carved from his drawings, and based on classics like Woyzeck and Faustus and Ubu as seen through the lens of the artist's Johannesburg experience, with footnotes drawn from an eclectic series of sources which include colonial engravings, hospital paraphernalia, botanical drawings, maps and anatomical dissections. The same themes have been addressed in the many powerful etchings, lithographs and silkscreens completed by the artist through the years.

Artist's statement:

"I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain ending - an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay."

On living a lifetime in Johannesburg: "I have never been able to escape Johannesburg, and in the end, all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city. I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and the films are certainly spawned by, and feed off, the brutalised society left in its wake."

On his drawings: "The drawings don't start with 'a beautiful mark'. It has to be a mark of something out there in the world. It doesn't have to be an accurate drawing, but it has to stand for an observation, not something that is abstract, like an emotion."

Quotations from William Kentridge by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev (1998), Societé des Expositions du Palais de Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles.


Kentridge is exhibiting simultaneously in the Project Room of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a multi-screen video projection, and at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Here, the complete film archive of Soho Eckstein, South African property developer extraordinaire, and his nemesis, Felix Teitlebaum, is on view.

What the critics are saying:

While the London Sunday Times critic read the Serpentine show as a manifestation of white South African guilt, respected Guardian critic Adrian Searle, in an extended and highly commendatory review, described Kentridge's work as "so arresting, so unexpected and so unplaceable that it is truly refreshing".

Next up:

Kentridge is working on a new project called Sleeping on Glass, which will be exhibited at the Villa Medici in Rome, opening on May 27.

And after that:

The first South African presentation of Kentridge's opera, The Return of Ulisse ( II Ritorno d' Ulisse), a collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company, will be a major drawcard of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July. This production was hailed as an artistic triumph at its premiere at the Luna Theatre in Brussels last year.

Drawings made by Kentridge from the opera of Ulisse will also be exhibited at the festival. In October, Kentridge will be exhibiting with the gallery with which he has been associated since the beginning of his career, Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery.


1955 Born in Johannesburg
1973-6 University of Witwatersrand, BA in Politics and African Studies
1976-8 Studied art at the Johannesburg Art Foundation
1981-2 Studied mime and theatre at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris
1988 Founder member of the Free Filmmakers Cooperative, Johannesburg
1975-91 Member of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, Johannesburg and Soweto
1989 Kentridge made his first animated film, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris
1992 First collaborative piece with the Handspring Puppet Company, Woyzeck on the Highveld
1995 1st Johannesburg Biennale
1996 Conceived and directed Ubu and the Truth Commission
1997 Havana Biennale, Documenta X
1998 Solo exhibition The Drawing Center, New York
1998 Solo exhibition, The Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
1998 Premiere of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse at the Luna Theatre, Brussels
1999 Project Room, Museum of Modern Art, New York
1999 Serpentine Gallery

Gallery representation The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

... MWeb

e-mail us

contents | listings | artbio | project | exchange
news | feedback | websites | archive | home