William Joseph Kentridge (South African, born 1955)
'Sleeper Red' signed 'W Kentridge' (lower right) and inscribed 'Proof' (lower left) etching, aquatint and drypoint 98 x 194cm (38 9/16 x 76 3/8in). published by David Krut Fine Art, London
LITERATURE B. Law-Viljoen (ed.), William Kentridge Prints, (Johannesburg and Iowa, 2006), another edition illustrated pp. 68-69
With its throbbing scarlet background, Sleeper Red is the most startling exponent of Kentridge's Sleeper series of 1997, which includes Sleeper 1, Sleeper Black, and Sleeper and Ubu. The work was printed by master printer Jack Shirreff, assisted by Andrew Smith, at 107 Workshop in Wiltshire in an edition of fifty, and published by David Krut Fine Arts, London.
The Sleeper prints were informed by an earlier set of etchings called Ubu Tells the Truth, as well as the theatre production Ubu & the Truth Commission. In these related projects, Kentridge resituates the protagonist of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi (1896) a satirical play about power, greed, and bourgeoisie complacency in a South African context.
Two significant themes run through the works. The first is the disjunctive selves and desires that constitute a single person, a preoccupation that also underpins the Soho/Eckstein dichotomy in Kentridge's film works. Ubu is represented as both a starkly delineated cartoon figure and as a naked man, modelled on the artist, who is ensnared in the former's outline. The most direct antecedent for Sleeper Red is the etching Act IV scene I of Ubu Tells the Truth, a profile view of a slumbering man who cradles his head in one arm.
In developing the etchings, Kentridge used source photographs of himself acting the role of Ubu in various postures, including sleeping. Sleeping becomes a metaphor for oblivion; an analogue of the desire to blot out or escape the disagreeable or dissonant elements of past and present, of one's very self. Memory always leaves its marks, however, and in Sleeper Red, these are embedded in the surface of the plate.
Kentridge describes how he placed various objects in the soft-ground prior to etching the plate in order both to flesh out the sleeper's form with a sense of texture, and to invoke the traces of history that haunt the present. With such large works, he explains, "one has to pull shape and texture into [it]". The surface of the print, which bears the artist's image, also literally bears the imprint of his hand in the fingerprints dispersed across the picture plane.
Reflecting its status as one of the artist's iconic works, an edition of Sleeper Red is in the collection of the Tate Modern, London. Other editions of the work have sold at Christie's London, September 15, 2010 (lot 186), Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Paris, November 19, 2007, lot 571, Christie's New York, Wednesday, October 31, 2007, lot 610, Sotheby's London, February 08, 2007, lot 456 and Phillips de Pury & Company New York, September 12, 2006 (lot 56).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Law-Viljoen (ed.), William Kentridge Prints, (Johannesburg and Iowa, 2006), p. 66 L. Cooke, 'Mundus Inversus, Mundus Perversus', in William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, (Chicago and New York, 2001), pp.38-57