William Kentridge

William Kentridge, "Scribble Cat" (2010). Sugarlift aquatint, spitbite aquatint, drypoint and hand-painting on 6 copper plates.

South African artist honored with Sam Fox School Dean's Medal.

Posted by Liam Otten, The Record February 25, 2011

In an age of computer graphics and 3D rendering, South African artist William Kentridge employs the simplest materials imaginable — paper, charcoal and pastel — to create animated films that explore apartheid, colonialism, human rights abuses, and other sobering topics with breathtaking insight and poignancy.

Kentridge — whose work also includes prints, books, sculpture, collage, etching, and performing arts — received the Dean's Medal from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis on March 2 in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. The ceremony was followed by an artist's lecture.

"William Kentridge is an astonishing draftsman who, over the last four decades, has created outstanding bodies of work in a wide variety of media," says Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School and E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts.

"Though perhaps best known for his elegant stop-motion films, Kentridge is also a particularly accomplished printmaker," says Colangelo, noting that an exhibition of recent works — Visual Musing: Prints by William Kentridge — is currently on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

"Indeed, it was through his engagement with printmaking, beginning in the early 1970s, that Kentridge found his way to drawing and, subsequently, to animation," Colangelo adds. "In many ways, that interdisciplinary practice and evolution speaks to the mission of the Sam Fox School."

The award was given amidst a semester's worth of events relating to printmaking and printmakers. From March 16-19, the Sam Fox School will host the annual SGC International Conference.

In addition, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is currently hosting three printmaking exhibitions: Ghost: Elizabeth Peyton, Island Press: Three Decades of Printmaking, and Luis Camnitzer: Forewords and Last Words.

William Kentridge

Born in 1955 in Johannesburg, Kentridge earned degrees in politics and African studies as well as in fine arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He later attended and taught etching at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, then studied mime and theater at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris.

From 1975-91, Kentridge acted in and directed for the Junction Avenue Theatre Company and in 1985 became a founding member of the Free Filmmakers Co-operative. Four years later, he created the first of what would become a long series of hand-drawn films investigating the post-apartheid era.

Just as a printed image might be built through the application of multiple plates, so do Kentridge's films emerge through sheer accumulation of drawing. Each scene is conceived as a single drawing that unfolds (and is photographed) through successive erasing and redrawing. Thus, each frame is built upon the ghost of the image that preceded it, and lingers as a ghost in the images that follow.

"Printmaking has been not just an edge to or a side journey from the work that I've been making over the last 30 years or so," Kentridge has said, "but is very much a key to it."

Kentridge's work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, including solo shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2009); Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2007); and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2004). Since opening in 2009, his retrospective, Five Themes, has traveled throughout the United States as well as to Paris, Vienna, Jerusalem, Melbourne, and Vancouver.

Major international exhibitions include Prospect.1 New Orleans (2008); the Sydney Biennale (1996, 2008); Documenta (1997, 2002) in Kassel, Germany; the Venice Biennial (1999); and the São Paulo Biennial (1998).

Meanwhile, Kentridge's opera and theater works, often produced in collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company, have appeared at Brooklyn Academy of Music (2007); Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa (1992, 1996, 1998); and Festival d'Avignon, France (1995, 1996).

His production of Dmitri Shostakovich's opera, The Nose, opened at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 2010, and will be presented in Aix-en-Provence (2011) and Lyon (2012), with a revival at the Metropolitan Opera in 2013.