Let us begin in the studio.
The studio holds a prominent presence in William Kentridge's artistic practice. Likened to an engine room, the studio provides the space for thinking and making, for images and text to collide, for the cross pollination of ideas and thoughts, and for one medium to inform another medium. Drawing becomes film, book pages become backdrops, paper and wood become bronze, cardboard cut outs become three dimensional forms, stories become sound, thoughts become text and everyday objects become sculpture. Something Has Been Postponed highlights Kentridge's tactile use of medium and materials in his practice, as well as the emphasis on the process of making—making drawings, making objects and making sense.
In Kentridge's words the studio 'becomes a place where the world is invited in. There are images stuck up on the walls, thoughts coming in, conversations coming in, pieces read, images seen in art-historical books, films seen ... The studio becomes not just a diagram, but a physical demonstration of what it is that we do in our heads all the time, where we are both receiving information and bringing to that which we receive, things we already know—images, thoughts, associations—and making sense of the world by combining these two different processes.'[I]
Aptly titled, Something Has Been Postponed originates from words reflected in Kentridge's most recent single channel flip book film, Waiting for the Sibyl, produced in preparation for the opera of the same name, which premiered at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in September 2019. The opera follows the story of the Cumean Sibyl, a priestess who wrote her prophecies on oak leaves. Sibyl would leave a pile of the oak leaves at the mouth of her cave from which people would seek the oak leaf with their fate or fortune. Inevitably a gust of wind would blow the leaves out of order, leaving the seekers uncertain as to whether they chose their own fate or the destiny of another.
'William Kentridge proposes a way of seeing art and life as a continuous process of change rather than as a controlled world of certainties. He constantly questions the impact of artistic practice in today's world and has investigated how identities are shaped through shifting ideas of history, and place, looking at how we construct our histories and what we do with them.'[II]
The 'Blue Rubrics' featured in Something Has Been Postponed are a continuation of Kentridge's familiar use of text seen in his 'Red Rubrics' of 2012. Painted in alizarin crimson watercolour on the pages of a 1735 Franciscan liturgical tract, the 'Red Rubrics' are made up of instructions, extracts, phrases and thoughts that form part of his Norton Lecture series, delivered at Harvard University in 2012. Kentridge begins his first lecture, 'Drawing Lesson One: In Praise of Shadows by saying', 'I listed every thought I had ever had, or remembered someone else's having. I divided them by six—in many different ways, as if in their different arrangements some new thought would emerge. I wrote them on pieces of paper and pinned them to the walls of the studio. I added them to drawings I was making.'[III]
The medium of text in Kentridge's broader scope of work is a constant, the conjunction and layering of image and text hold suggestions of possible meanings, but not one single or clear meaning leaving the viewer to make sense of what is in front of them.
Kentridge's set of Roman Heads originated through research he was conducting for the opera Lulu. Both this series of portrait heads, as well as the series 'Three Sisters', are characterised by a maneuver of formal deception; experiments in 'tompe l'oeil'. Although the objects are cast in bronze, Kentridge, in collaboration with the painter Stella Olivier, are able to evoke the character of ephemeral materials such as cardboard, tape, cloth or newspaper. Another exercise in visual illusion and perception can be seen in Rebus, where rotating graphic forms cast in bronze, are resolved as different silhouetted images depending on the orientation of view.
William Kentridge's Lexicon is an accumulation of elemental symbols within his broader practice. This series of bronze sculptures, functions as a form of visual dictionary. The sculptures are symbols, 'glyphs', a repertoire of everyday objects or suggested words and icons, many of which have been used repeatedly across previous projects. The glyphs can be arranged in order to construct sculptural sentences, and rearranged to deny meaning. Several pieces from Kentridge's visual lexicon have been scaled-up into plaster prototypes, from which medium and monumental bronze sculptures have been cast: the curvature of an ampersand, the character of a camera in action.
Megaphone Man and Untitled VII (Nose on a Stick Horse) are examples of Kentridge's early exploration in the medium of bronze. Made in the same manner as the game of puppets he would play with his children on their birthdays, where puppets are created out of found objects around the house, these bronzes are born out of improvisation and a way of working without expectation or the pressure of an end result.
Kentridge is admired for the simplicity and the immediacy of the images that he creates. As an extension from the iconic erasure-based charcoal drawings of Drawings for Projection, Kentridge began to explore other techniques that would reduce the amount of intentionality and control over a medium and its subject. The act of tearing black paper, leaving the final shapes that are formed up to chance, suggests how expressive an artist can be to create shapes that a viewer can apprehend as an image—an image that through the viewers' own associations and projections, will make sense of what is in front of them.
Let us conclude, back in the studio with Making a Horse.
[I] Hirson, D. 2017, Footnotes for the Panther, Fourthwall Books
[II] Christov-Barkargiev, C. 2009, William Kentridge: Five Themes, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Norton Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press.
[III] Kentridge, W. 2012, Six Drawing Lessons, Harvard University Press.
Press release courtesy Goodman Gallery.