William Joseph Kentridge (South African, born 1955) Reservoir

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Lot 59
William Joseph Kentridge
(South African, born 1955)
Reservoir

Sold for £ 52,500 (US$ 65,406) inc. premium
William Joseph Kentridge (South African, born 1955)
Reservoir
signed and dated 'Kentridge '88' (lower right)
charcoal and pastel
107 x 171cm (42 1/8 x 67 5/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Vanessa Devereux Gallery, London, 1989.
    A corporate collection, UK.

    Exhibited
    Cape Town, Gallery International, 'William Kentridge & Simon Stone', 29 March - 15 April 1988.
    London, Vanessa Devereux Gallery, 'Responsible Hedonism', 14 May - 20 June 1989.


    This drawing executed in 1988 depicts a reservoir in the barren landscape of Johannesburg's East Rand. Once a centre of industry, the region's mines and factories had largely closed by the late 1980s. Kentridge's charcoal depicts a derelict and empty wasteland. The work documents the area's decline, but also suggests the artist's dissatisfaction with the state of the country more generally.

    Apartheid was still in full force in 1988; President Botha had declared a state of emergency in 1985 in an attempt to quell outbreaks of violence in the townships. Kentridge was greatly distressed by the extension of police powers in this period; his anxieties for the future of the country are communicated in his bleak landscapes. He states that the drawings from this period were not intended to be "illustrations of apartheid, but...are certainly spawned by, and feed off, the brutalised society left in its wake".

    In Reservoir, the landscape itself is the central character, with a life of its own. Kentridge is interested in the evolution of our environment as a result of human behaviour; landscapes are always in a state of transformation, acquiring new meanings with each event and occurrence. The artist began to film his charcoal drawings in 1985, recording each stage of their development. Rather than working towards a final deliberate image as he had done previously, in filming each sketch the artist was able to chronicle the entire creative process. As Staci Boris comments, the technique "not only breathed energy and motion into the final static drawing, but created a document of the drawing's process, a record of its life". Kentridge would go on to make short animations from these film sequences.

    The current drawing is one of a number of charcoal landscapes Kentridge produced in 1988, along with Landscape with Pipe, Urbanise, and Spartan/Isando (illustrated Boris, pp.34-35). He gave a lecture in the same year titled, 'Landscape in a State of Siege', in which he spoke of his desire to avoid "the plague of the picturesque". His charcoal sketches are intended to counter the romanticised depictions of the South African landscape by artists such as Pierneef. Kentridge believed these sentimental views were deliberate acts of dis-remembering:

    "I had not seen, and in many ways feel I have not yet seen, a picture that corresponds to what the South African landscape feels like. I suppose my understanding of the countryside is essentially an urban one. It has to do with visions from the roadside, with landscape that is articulated, or given a meaning by incidents across it, pieces of civil engineering, the lines of pipes, culverts, fences" (Kentridge, 1988).

    The artist devised a strategy in the late 1980s of driving into the countryside and drawing whatever landmark presented itself; fragments of billboards, pylons, stadiums, barbed wire fences. The resulting charcoal drawings, of which Reservoir is one, are the immediate precursors to those portrayed in the later film sequences such as Felix in Exile.

    Bibliography
    S.Boris, 'The Process of Change: Landscape, Memory, Animation and Felix in Exile', in William Kentridge, (New York, 2001), pp.29-35.
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