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Post-War & Contemporary Art / William Kentridge (B. 1955) Large Typewriters 2003
Sold for £682,750 inc. premium
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Goodman Gallery, South Africa
The BHP Billiton Collection, Melbourne (acquired directly from the above in 2003)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
William Kentridge has come to be known as one of the most celebrated contemporary artists, lyrically combining both the political and the allegorical into his work. Born in Johannesburg in 1955, Kentridge's parents dedicated involvement to the fight against apartheid in South Africa would have a deep and lasting effect on the artist. Setting him apart from many of his white peers from a young age, Kentridge's somewhat unusual background and upbringing would go onto inform his work throughout his life.
'It gave me a kind of belief in bastardy, in mixed traditions, in societies made up of very different impulses, of the fundamental instability of the world rather than its stability and of the central point of the absurd. I mean, what could be more absurd than the racial laws of apartheid South Africa for those 40 years? But they were followed through with great assiduity and cruelty. So in a way the absurd was lodged at a very early age in understanding the unnaturalness of the society I was in.' (The artist in an interview with Louisa Buck, 'William Kentridge: an animated life', theartnewspaper.com, 31 August 2016). Kentridge completed a degree in Politics and African History in Johannesburg, only later turning to art and theatre, however it is this unconventional path that would go onto inform his practice both aesthetically and intellectually, with South African culture and identity at the heart of his practice.
A consummate example of the artist's work, Large Typewriters, 2003 combines both the banal and the absurd, the real and the imagined. Here, Kentridge presents the viewer with two quasi-identical typewriters – while fairly commonplace in one's imagination, the typewriter retains a somewhat dated and nostalgic quality, a relic of times gone by. Working from a variety of images and reference points, Kentridge often comes back to the same images in his work, whether that be the typewriter, the megaphone, the telephone or the tree, each image retains its familiarity while referencing something outside of itself in each of its contexts.
'I work closely with different kinds of references. I have a collection of images and things to which I refer throughout my working process. I find my visual imagination is always less interesting than those things I've discovered in looking at the specifics of details. If one can hold on to the specific, it almost always is more interesting [...] Take the drawing of an old typewriter, for example. One has a universal image of what an old typewriter looks like in one's head, so there is an image of it, but it will be bland and inaccurate. There are details of the different kinds of carriage returns, or different kinds of moulding of the black surface of the typewriter around the space bar, which are always more interesting than I could imagine.' (The artist in an interview with Dale Berning, 'Artist William Kentridge on charcoal drawing,' theguardian.com, 19 September 2009)
In the present work, the immediacy of the subject matter is palpable, the almost identical objects floating on the sheet consume the viewer by their sheer size. Their specificity is rendered in each of the objects' details outlining both their similarities and their differences, while Kentridge's signature monochrome palette and use of charcoal emphasizes the speed of creation in the smudged lines and sooty surface. For the artist, drawing and in particular charcoal drawing is at the centre of his artistic process, with drawing used at the inception of most of his works, each mark representing the artist's thought process.
Kentridge's work has the unique ability of speaking to a universal audience while addressing complex themes specific to South Africa's history of racial discrimination and apartheid. The present work however is discreet in its symbolism, on one hand speaking to wider themes in the artist's work while on the other simply referencing its own physicality. Specific objects are repeated throughout Kentridge's work both singularly and without context but also accompanied by others and placed within a specific narrative. Here the use of tautology as an artistic device forces the viewer to contemplate each typewriter's specificity but also their differences, the thought process outlined by each mark and ultimately their symbolism within the larger socio-political and aesthetic framework of Kentridge's practice. It is from these drawings that the artist's universal vision can be created through his film, theatre and operatic works enveloping each object with multiple and specific meanings – here, the typewriter can be understood as a mimetic device which points beyond itself to Kentridge's larger artistic vision and ultimately the world beyond.
William Kentridge's bold artistic vision has seen him become one of the world's most sought-after artists by museums and collectors alike. The artist's singular and monochrome aesthetic is upheld throughout his work allowing for a distinctive and original aesthetic recognisable in his drawing and sculpture through to his projection and full-scale operatic productions. Kentridge's work can be found in the collections of some of the most prestigious museums in the world including the MoMA, New York, Tate Modern, London and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago among many others.