William Kentridge at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, is a powerful showcase commemorating one of the greatest living multimedia artists of our age.
His creative process centralises the physical act of drawing; this isn’t solely restricted to additive mark-making, as he embraces the ghostly remnants of the erased line with equal measure. This emphasis on drawing as a journey manifests as animated films – some funny, some dark – with the process of drawing as their storytelling device.
The astonishing thing is that a single project drawing often represents an entire storyboard. In doing so, the resulting films capture a sense of how one observes details in works of art, flitting from one corner to another, following our personal observational narrative.
A wonderful highlight is Black Box/Chambre Noire, a mechanised theatre in which several puppets roll on stage to re-enact the German Schutztruppe’s genocidal acts against the Herrero and Nama peoples of South West Africa. Playing once every hour at 20 minutes past, it is a clever contraption with all the charm of a children’s puppet theatre.
With a background producing set designs for theatre, Kentridge takes a very dramatic and bold approach to documenting South African apartheid and diaspora. But his multidisciplinary approach also leads him to make monumental ink drawings on collages, grand tapestries, epic films exploring Communist China, and chamber operas with costumes reminiscent of Bauhaus productions.
There are also humorous musings on creativity, Old Master references to Andrea Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar and Édouard Manet Execution of Emperor Maximilian, and even a whimsical interest in stereoscopy. There is the overwhelming idea that everything in life is a spectacle; it’s an inspiring thought, even if it does have darker connotations in this age of constant surveillance.
Although quite heavy on the head at times, this is a superb celebration well worth revisiting before it closes.
William Kentridge runs until 11 December 2022 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/