William Kentridge explores themes of the society in which he lives, but in a particularly subtle way. Kentridge creates art in a variety of media, including drawing, film, printmaking, sculpture and set designs for opera. For his most recent film, Other faces 2011, acquired by the National Gallery late last year, Kentridge drew and then filmed a series of textured charcoal drawings. Sometimes embellished with coloured pencils and at other times rubbed out, the filmic narrative ebbs and flows from past memories to contemporary events in Kentridge’s country of birth, South Africa.
One drawing of a landscape for the film has been acquired through the generosity of National Gallery of Australia Foundation with assistance of the Poynton Bequest. Kentridge’s skill as a draughtsman is apparent in this masterful large-scale charcoal, coloured-pencil and pastel work. The drawing subverts the tradition of landscape painting by artists such as Paul Gauguin and the Pont Aven painters, who created idealised landscapes, editing out the incursions of modern life—their scenes are devoid of any industrial or urban ugliness associated with nineteenth-century modernisation.
Kentridge’s depiction of Johannesburg and its outskirts is the antithesis of this approach. At first glance, the artist has created a lyrical view of the countryside on the eastern plateau of South Africa, rich in foliage and flowing waterways. Yet, this is deceptive; hidden among the grasses and woodlands are the remnants of abandoned mines, decrepit buildings and polluted waters. The sad history is barely perceptible, a shadow, scarcely a memory. But it remains. For Kentridge, this wasteland drawing is a metaphor for the destructive effect of apartheid on his homeland in both the apartheid era and in contemporary life.
Jane Kinsman Senior Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
in artonview, issue 70, winter 2012