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William Kentridge

felixcrying.jpg
image: "felix crying"

by John Kurczewski

The artist, William Kentridge is from South Africa. He works in video and drawing mediums primarily, usually mixing the two, as in his relatively well-known “Felix in Exile,� which can be found on Youtube along with other videos of his. He has also produced tapestries with drawings on them, though the bulk of his projects are video animations of sorts. The ‘classic’ Kentridge work is a video with animation that, unlike traditional cell-based animations, show the drawing process, as Kentridge makes visible erasures on the same drawing, then redraws the figures, moving the action along in his films.
Most of Kentridge’s work deals with political and social themes, coming often from a highly personal point of view. Coming from a tumultuous political area, he he is inspired by the personal struggles of people in this setting, and being a white man from South Africa shapes his viewpoint. Perhaps his most famous series of films are centered around two semi-autobiographical characters, Soho Eckstein, an “avaricious businessman,� and Felix Teitlebaum, the “romantic and somewhat lost soul.� In these pieces especially, it doesn’t seem that he is trying to entertain so much as take the viewer deep inside some mental state. He uses strong visual symbols in his pieces, and reality doesn’t contain the sometimes fantastic things that happen to characters in his films. It does seem he’s motivating us to see the world differently, as a sad but mystical place where emotions kind of reign supreme. There is also quite an existentialist aspect to his work, most of which is focuses around the travails of the individual in the context of an oppressive socirty/environment.
Compared to Lorna Simpson, an artist discussed in class who also works in film, Kentridge is quite the other side of the spectrum. Firstly, Simpson background is is photography rather than drawing, which may be part of the reason why her films feel more theatrical. Also, Simpson’s movies do not deal with history, at least in such a strong way as Kentridge. His work is deeply rooted n the history of his region, political history especially, and the same can not be said for Simpson. Simpson’s work is more geared toward a gallery space than a single screen, as she has several installation-type pieces that create a sense of environment.
I would definitely tell a friend about William Kentridge, I find his work compelling, and perhaps more importantly, I really enjoy his aesthetics. His drawings look good to me, and his films can be disturbing, but are excellent. He is artist that clearly thinks about his work a lot, and about life a lot, but also that works a lot, which I admire and which shows in his work.