Sunday, January 13, 2008

William Kentridge Prints and Cyclopedia of Drawing

Since there is a William Kentridge show opening at the Marion Goodman Gallery in New York City next Wednesday I thought I’d share two books that have been recent additions to my collection.

Kentridge, as most of you know, is one of the most world renowned artists working in South Africa today. I first saw his animated film Stereoscope when it was featured in MoMA’s Projects series and within just a few seconds of that 8.5 minute short, I was hooked. Unlike traditional animation that utilizes thousands of individual cells drawn and photographed one at a time to create the illusion of movement, Kentridge uses the same piece of paper and erases and redraws the slight variations in between the camera frames. The result leaves the smudges and faint history of the entire scene recorded while the image continues with the narrative. History and its inconvenient way of lingering and tainting is one of the many layers at play in Kentridge’s work.

He has created drawings, films, sculpture, prints using many techniques, puppet theater pieces and even produced a staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute which had its American debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year. A major show of his tapestries is currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 6th.

There have been several handsome books and catalogs published but one of note from 2006 is William Kentridge Prints from David Krut Publishing. This is the first book dedicated entirely to Kentridge’s thirty year history with printmaking.

The book is illustrated with over 180 reproductions starting with his earliest linocuts from 1976 when he was just out of high school to his 2005 Receiver series which are photogravure printed on handmade paper. Each series or edition featured is accompanied by a short text written by Kentridge that gives insight into his process and ideas. Looking through this book, it is the variety of ways that Kentridge has used the printed form that is a surprise.

It seems much care was taken in producing a quality and tone that is faithful to the original works as the reproductions are very good. Susan Stewart contributes a fine essay at the beginning of the book called Resistance and Ground: The Prints of William Kentridge. The book is available in both hard and soft cover.

The second book I have recently acquired is more in the form of an artist book. Published in 2004 by Art3 and the Ecole d’Art d’Annecy in France, Cyclopedia of Drawing is a series of drawings by Kentridge that acts as a flipbook.

Using pages from an American Technical Society reference book published in 1924, Kentridge creates each cell of his animation over mechanical and architectural engravings used to illustrate the fabrication of sheet metal and tinsmith projects. Kentridge has often used existing printed material from encyclopedias, maps and charts, indexes to create foundations that reflect knowledge, history or metaphysics.

In Cyclopedia of Drawings, Kentridge’s alter ego Felix jumps into the air and quickly morphs into a bird taking flight. After his brief stint as Icarus, he somersaults back to the ground and ends in a relaxing, almost comic pose. On each page, the diagrams and formulations from the technical book seem to be ‘proving’ the possibility of this remarkable feat while at the same time the page headers of SHEET METAL WORK and TINSMITHING humorously mock with their connotations of home-made construction and physical weight.

This book was published in an edition of 1000 copies, 100 of which were signed and numbered. I know of at least one other flipbook that was published in 1999 which I have heard animates a nude Felix as he scoops water up in his hat. The animation is supposedly drawn over pages from a Catalan grammar course book. Both of these have become very rare and very difficult to find. Originally priced at 28 euros, Cyclopedia of Drawing is now usually a couple hundred dollars. It is soft cover and approximately 6 by 8 ¼ inches with a strip of black binder’s tape on the edge. The reproductions are well done on a creamy yellow heavy paper stock common to technical manuals which is edged in red.

David Krut Publishing

Book Available Here (William Kentridge Prints)