William Kentridge, Whitechapel Gallery 13.1.17

This is a stunning exhibition which I am glad to have visited before it closed.  The energy and scale is hard to put into words but it was a very immersive, almost hypnotic, experience with some elements of the steampunk aesthetic and the powerful impact of music with the imagery.


Kentridge uses drawings, often in charcoal, as the basis for much of his work but then extends this with sculpture, film, music, puppetry and the spoken word.  His subject matter is vast and complex, centred around the title Thick Time.  The show spiel explains that the measurement of time, space and light has evolved in tandem with the control and exploitation of global resources and peoples.

As a South African artist, he is concerned with ideas of colonialism, identity and exile but all underpinned with the Utopian idea that time can flow both ways, fate can be eluded. We see scribbles and erasure and leaves and paper tape being blow around and disappearing. There are many glimpses of the process of the work which become part of the final output.

Some of the music has a strong Tom Waits/Kurt Weill vibe and with the declared influences of Francisco de Goya, Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, this work is like a dark carnival. The silhouette parade at the end of “Refusal of Time” was just stunning, as was the eerie but strangely comforting “Here I am” voiceover as part of an exploration of the Theory of Relativity.

The artist has talked in interviews about how important it is for him to collaborate and the teams involved with the installations are all clearly name checked on the walls.  He draws inspiration from all quarters and the results are immense.




  • The drama of the music/metronome rhythms and how that enhances the imagery (similar to Eamonn Doyle/David Donohoe – END)
  • Text and drawings over dictionary pages; using text pages as a canvas
  • Use of filmed flipbooks to show a large number of images working together
  • Stop motion collage
  • Almost all monochrome with the use of black tape echoing thick black brushstrokes and charcoal lines
  • Influence of constructivism and expressionism – dramatic and unusual angles
  • ‘Vertical Thinking’, ‘Leap Before You Look’, ‘Her Absence Filled The Whole World’
  • Use of self as model and actor
  • Torschlusspanik: the idea that time is running out. Literal meaning = fear of a gate closing so often associated with midlife crisis.  Similar to Ultima Forsan
  • Kentridge: “Art is vital. It is one of the ways we construct who we are. In the books we read, in songs we hear, we find either affirmations of impulses we’ve had or find new things. But there’s a way one can describe the biography by all these cultural, ephemeral experiences that we’ve had the consolidate who we are. And there’s a great strength that comes from those connections of what it is to not feel on your own, to feel other points of understanding, commonality.”  This is a great reminder not to be afraid of making very personal work. I often think no one will be interested but actually I should always remember my sage tutor’s advice: if it resonates with you, it will resonate with someone else too.  The sense of commonality cannot be second-guessed and must be authentic.


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