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Artist Research; William Kentridge

Artist Profile; William Kentridge
Emily Hanson
Rowan's Discussion Group

(I could not figure out how to upload pictures, but please check out these links, or just search William's artwork on the web! It's pretty fantastic!)

Artist William Kentridge, born in Johannesburg in 1955, grew up during the height of Apartheid in South Africa. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and African Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand he went on to receive a diploma from the Johannesburg Art Foundation in the Fine Arts. He is most well known for his charcoal drawings and the animated films that often stem from them, but has also worked in other medias such as sculpture and printmaking, worked as an artistic director on a television series, and at one point seriously contemplated becoming an actor. For years he worked as an actor and director for a theater company in Johannesburg, but has since made his artwork his primary focus.

Much of Kentridge's inspiration stems from his South African roots. The social and political happenings that have occurred around him in times of conflict or otherwise have all come to shape not only his life, but his life’s work. He was once quoted in an interview that, "I have been unable to escape Johannesburg. The four houses I have lived in, my school, studio, have all been within three kilometers of each other. And in the end all my work is rooted in this rather desperate provincial city". While he does not always create work that explicitly refers to Apartheid many of the events of that time have shaped his work. Often he will start a piece with no intention of creating a storyline related to these events, but somehow the majority will always end as such. His work is a combination of somewhat personal narratives, or storylines that allude to such, and stories rich with historical context. His ability to evoke such strong emotion and insight through his pieces with such simple medium (charcoal, paper, and sometimes a bit of color) helps to make Kentridge an even more extraordinary artist in my eyes.


Other artists covered in class have also created works that present some sort of narrative or deal with historical content, just with different medium. Nan Golden is one artist in particular that has painted a rather vivid and controversial picture of her life through her photographs. Golden presents a sort of photo journal of her life that she has made public, where Kentridge compiles mixed medium drawing to produce a final story in the form of a film. Kentridge's works are a mixture of personal narrative as well as a focus on larger collective history, where Golden’s narratives follow her life, and the lives of those she holds dear. His stories often follow different political moments in South African history that have unfolded over time and before an extremely large population. Both artists present history in very different ways, and the approaches that they take to help tell their stories are what audiences will find most appealing. One uses very raw, natural and personal photography, while the other uses very raw, expressionistic drawings and films.


I would undoubtedly recommend a visit to a William Kentridge exhibit. The art work he produces is not simply tremendous as a final product, the process that he uses to come to that point is remarkable in itself. The technique he uses to create his films is a labor intensive series of drawing, filming, erasing, and altering of a single drawing which is compiled together to create one flowing film. While watching the final product one is able to see the different eraser marks left by the artist during the process which, in my opinion, adds to the beauty of the piece. The audience is then able to further appreciate the process of the artwork, rather than just the final product. Kentridge is a wonderful storyteller and I believe that the subject matter on which most of his works are based on is extremely important and can be appreciated by vast audiences.


Kentridge, William. "Stereoscope." Interview with Lilian Tone. William Kentridge; Stereoscope. Nov. 2008 .

Kentridge, quoted in William Kentridge: Drawings for Projection, Four Animated Films. Johannesburg: Goodman Gallery, 1992, n.p.

"William Kentridge." 1999. Carnegie International. Nov. 2008