A Universal Archive – William Kentridge As Printmaker (The Bluecoat, Liverpool)

When viewing the recent Tracing the Century exhibition at Tate Liverpool, one of the real standout pieces were three video installations by South African artist William Kentridge.  For those after more of those dark and foreboding prints, The Bluecoat have amassed an excellent collection of his artwork and prints; a collection so big that the entire of their exhibition space is dedicated to his work.

The first space is filled with his Little Moral etchings which were said to be a collaboration with the first art-print making studio in South Africa.  The prints highlight the banality of everyday life when the world around is falling apart.  The style is reminiscent of Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman but Kentridge brings his own touch to the work with some outer body creatures and hollow husks of people being the dominant feature.  While the people in his pictures are complex in shading with often mournful postures and faces, the creatures outside seems cartoon like, mocking the very characters for their dreary outlook and hinting at the stupidity of ignorance.




The following space houses a wealth of work, following along similar themes but transplanting them into different textures and environments.  Monitor and Unremember (2012) are lithographs on collages of newspaper.  The pieces show older typewriters printed on newspaper, questioning the relationship between creator and created.  Sleeping on Glass (1999) on the other hand, presents ideas from Kentridge’s film of the same name, showing shadowy, pale imagery that resemble early medieval drawings.  These have an uncomfortable feeling to them, as if witnessing something atrocious but unable to quite work out what is so bothering.

The openness of the space allows some of the larger works to breathe and his two Art In A State Of… pictures (1988) work well in a room that is filled with little else except natural light.  They present hideous creatures towering over a specific place; the Hope picture showcasing a woman with a fan for a head, the Siege picture showing a rotting, clearly corrupt man under the banner “100 years of easy living”.  They’re both very provocative pieces, aggressive and uncompromising in their dethroning of the kings and queens.  It’s fitting that the other pieces in the space are far more gentle with Living Language (Cat) (1999) playfully hiding a mischievous feline on an old record.




Kentridge seems to be interested in the use everyday objects influenced by older technology.  Downstairs in his work there were records, typewriters and fans.  Upstairs the viewer finds more records from the Living Language series as well as the Telephone Lady (2000); another amalgamation of human and object, only instead of a fan, the woman is spliced with a telephone.  This presents an interesting contract to the pieces downstairs even though they play on the same theme.  The fan implied comfort almost to excess, while the phone can perhaps be read as an egotistical form of communication.  It matters very little considering how stunning the pieces are visually.

There is something unsettling about these pictures as a whole.  Though they’re visually very dark with no colour, they hint at far darker things beneath the surface.  The temptation to scratch away at them to reveal the true force that lies beneath is high, though this is already available in Tate Liverpool; the moving image shows the truth behind Kentridge’s work while these works are happy in showing segments of the actual picture.  Like having zoomed in on a horrific picture to the point where it’s impossible to make out exactly why it is disturbing.  They are of great contrast and visiting both on the same occasion is more then recommended.

Adam Scovell




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