WILLIAM KENTRIDGE: STUDIO LIFE

William Kentridge's Studio, 2020

The mythology surrounding the artist’s studio takes many forms: a physical reflection of the artist’s mind in the cases of Jackson Pollock or Francis Bacon, the communal revelry of Andy Warhol’s factory, the calm sanctuary of Donald Judd’s home studio. No matter which you subscribe to there is great curiosity in knowing just what has been influencing the artists who so deeply move us. What books are on the desk? How do they organize their work, their day, their decision making process? These behind the scenes looks are rare, and far too often only occur posthumously.

William Kentridge, like many of us, was forced to change his typically busy routine when COVID-19 quarantines limited movement and social interactions. For Kentridge, it was an opportunity to re-examine his own artistic practice and the very nature of the creative process. Picking up where his 2020 animation City Deep left off, Kentridge has dedicated himself to making a series of ten films called Studio Life, four of which have been completed, focusing on the place of production, confinement and sanctuary for an artist: the studio. A series of photogravure images is being created simultaneously in collaboration with David Krut Workshop. Each photogravure directly connects to a film, taking on different vantage points and building one another up.

 

The photogravure series, also titled Studio Life, is being released in pairs, unfolding with the films. At present, there are six photogravure images drawn from the first four films, and at present four photogravures are complete.

Studio Life: Third Angle Projection, 2021

Edition of 18
Photogravure on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 44 x 54 cm
Plate size: 28 x 42.5 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town

Photographer Chris-Waldo De Wet, Kentridge Studio, Johannesburg

Studio Life: Exercise 2, 2021

Edition of 18

Photogravure on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 44 x 54 cm
Plate size: 28 x 42.5 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town

Photographer Chris-Waldo De Wet, Kentridge Studio, Johannesburg

Studio Life: Exercise 1, 2021

Edition of 18
Photogravure on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 44 x 54 cm
Plate size: 28 x 42.3 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town

Photographer Chris-Waldo De Wet, Kentridge Studio, Johannesburg
Film Reference: Studio Life: Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot (Film Four)

Studio Life: Blackboard, 2021

Edition of 18
Photogravure on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 44 x 54 cm
Plate size: 28 x 42.3 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town

Photographer Chris-Waldo De Wet, Kentridge Studio, Johannesburg
Film Reference: Studio Life: Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot (Film Four)

Studio Life: Felicia, Ida, Felicia, 2020

Edition of 18
Photogravure with Gampi chine-collé on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 54 x 44 cm
Plate size: 42.3 x 28 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town
Film Reference: Studio Life: Vanishing Points (Film Two)

Studio Life: The Phillips Room, 2020

Edition of 18
Photogravure on Hahnemühle Natural White 300gsm
Paper size: 44 x 54 cm
Plate size: 30 x 40 cm
Project Managed by Master Printer Jillian Ross
Edition Printed by Kim-Lee Loggenberg at David Krut Workshop, Johannesburg
Published by David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
Plate made by Zhané Warren, Cape Town
Film Reference: City Deep, Studio Life: Natural History of the Studio (Film One), Studio Life: Vanishing Points (Film Two)

Artistically, Kentridge tackles a creative challenge from multiple perspectives and processes with a variety of collaborators. Drawings, prints, and sculptures spin out from and generate content for operas, films, and installations. True to form, the Studio Life series of films is being worked on simultaneously with a series of photogravure images. Collaborating with longtime publisher David Krut and Master Printer Jillian Ross, photographs taken during film production are translated into large format prints that give us a glimpse into his studio life, a voyeuristic visit with the urgency and intimacy of a soliloquy.

Kim-Lee Loggenberg wiping the photogravure plate for Studio Life: Exercise 1
William Kentridge at David Krut Workshop

As these choreographed and considered photographs are transformed through a manual, intaglio printing process, they illuminate elements of the films by peeking behind the curtain, revealing the inner workings, placing us in the studio with him, and in turn generate their own narratives and experiences in parallel. The photogravure process merges the worlds of Kentridge’s drawings hanging on the wall with the objects on the table, and the cameras on the stands with the very studio itself, calling into question what is the real work, the experience of the object or, the object itself? It is the reaching for answers to these fundamental questions that keeps Kentridge engaged as an artist and us as viewers. 

Detail from Studio Life: The Phillips Room

Drawn from the well of his home city of Johannesburg, William Kentridge’s Studio Life series is hyper site specific in its references, but also mirrors tragedies from the fallout of the building and collapse of colonialist Europe present across the globe. It is the specificity of the experiences and the exacting detail of the telling that makes his work relatable, meaningful, and transcendent to his audience.

 

The Phillips Room presents a major drawing from Kentridge’s 2020 animation City Deep, in front of which the artist has created a still life of fabricated and found objects. The still life objects on the table in the foreground reflect some of the objects or characters in the first film of the Studio Life series, Natural History of the Studio. Here we see these well-worn objects as Kentridge has left them, ready for use in a room where the quiet is palpable.

The Phillips Room of the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), was completed in 1920. Now neglected and crumbling, it has significance for the people of Johannesburg as it reflects a country struggling to find its identity. The Phillips Room calls into question why we collect, select, and preserve what we do, and for how long we can hold these things dear and away from the ravages of time. 

Studio Life: The Phillips Room / Studio Life: Felicia, Ida, Felicia
Detail from Studio Life: Felicia, Ida, Felicia
Detail from Studio Life: Felicia, Ida, Felicia

The Studio Life photogravure images switch between the perspectives of what Kentridge sees himself, and what we see as guests in his studio. In Felicia, Ida, Felicia, we see an isolated grouping of images pinned to a large working wall in Kentridge’s studio, a visual representation of the artist thinking out loud on full display in Vanishing Points, the second film in the Studio Life series. The images themselves are a collage of Kentridge’s mother Felicia (1930-2015) over the moon, and his granddaughter Ida, born during lockdown in April 2020, alongside a ruler – a simple yet powerful tool for measuring the distance between two points.

 

Felicia, enveloped by a celestial body, is emblematic of the distance loved ones attain after their passing, their memory waxing and waning in our everyday lives. Photographs of Ida, whose birth was a bright spot for Kentridge during the pandemic, served as his only introduction to her until she was six months old due to COVID-19 restrictions. Felicia, Ida, Felicia, provides a deeply personal glimpse into Kentridge’s world, with an emphasis on the longing for loved ones lost and separated from, and the desire to hold them together when the boundaries of time will forever keep them apart.

Detail from Studio Life: Felicia, Ida, Felicia

“One can think of the studio as a kind of enlarged head,” Kentridge says. “Instead of ideas moving a few centimetres from one part of your memory to your active thinking, it’s the walk across the studio that has the same effect of bringing ideas together and allowing something to emerge.” – William Kentridge on Studio Life in “The Room Where It Happens”, The Economist, Dec. 9, 2020.

With the Studio Life films, Kentridge has transformed drawings, cameras and the artist himself into players on a stage set comprised of easels, furniture and tools, with the dance of art-making a riveting storyline delivered with Shakespearean precision. In the pair of Studio Life photogravure images Blackboard and Exercise 1, Kentridge can be seen at work on this stage in a blur of intensity and intention. We see the camera, the walls with works pinned up, and the remnants of erased drawings, footsteps, and gestures. If the cognitive processes of reasoning and remembering were able to be seen, this is how they might look. 

 

Some elements of the images remain static, as if having been worked out or completed to a point that allows for a shift of focus, while others seem to define the very idea of conjuring inspiration through work. Time, a present character and co-conspirator to an artist both familiar with being the subject and the interviewer, is as malleable in Kentridge’s working process for the animated films as it is in his drawings and prints. The ability to change form has manifested in Blackboard and Exercise 1, and sits in stark contrast to the contemplative moods of The Phillips Room and Felicia, Ida, Felicia

Detail from Studio Life: Blackboard
Detail from Studio Life: Exercise 1

With the pandemic physically keeping him from the David Krut Workshop at Arts on Main, the selection of the photogravure process for the new series of prints was a natural one for Kentridge. It offered him the opportunity to produce a series of works parallel to his Studio Life films without leaving his own studio. Photogravure took the documentary photographs of the making of these films into another realm, and allowed him to look more deeply into his own practice, just as we can through these images. The opportunity to see their own process revealed back to them is a major reason for an artist to undertake working in print media and for Kentridge, a seasoned printmaker, these new photogravures live in a space between his films and his graphic works. The films and photogravures are monumental undertakings, exactly what we have come to know and expect from William Kentridge’s major works.

 

The Studio Life photogravures are being released as pairs as the artworks are completed. Presently, The Phillips Room and Felicia, Ida, Felicia, are available as a set of two, and Blackboard and Exercise 1 are available as a set of two. A limited number of the full set of six artworks will be available at a pre-publication price. Please inquire below for further information.

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