Photo Credit: William Kentridge Studios

William Kentridge Speaks To The Norval Foundation Curator Karel Neil Ahead Of His Upcoming Exhibition ‘Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture’


The Norval Foundation in Capetown will host for the first time William Kentridge sculpture dubbed Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture. This would be the first and only time William will be showcasing his mastering in sculpting. Here is an interview with Norval Foundation’s Curator Karel Nel.

Karel Neil The first exhibition internationally to address your output as a sculptor will be on display at Norval Foundation in August. What has informed the development of your sculptural output over the years?

William Kentridge: The origins of the sculpture that I’ve done…. A lot of the early work that I did had to do with either silhouettes or shadows. And shadows by their nature are immaterial, simply an absence of light, a blockage of the light. And the sculptures started as a way of making this immaterial substance, or void, a shadow into a solid weighty material object. This was usually done by taking the shape of a shadow or a silhouette – a silhouette of the shadow you could say – and extruding it outwards onto paper, into cardboard into wax on paper, or cloth so that the image which had no dimensionality, or it had only two-dimensionality, gets extruded and given a weight in the third dimension. This was the basis of most of the sculptures, which is to say that they’re the sculptures of a draftsman rather than a pure sculptor. Three dimensionality is an essential attribute of them but they usually start as a drawing. And this has expanded from making the sculptures thicker and heavier to feel the weight of a word and to feel the weight of an image. The usual transformation has been from cardboard or cloth or wax into bronze but there are also steel sculptures, steel cut-outs, welded steel sculptures, some assemblages of wood and twigs, some of which remain as these rough assemblages, some of which then get cast. There are a number of sculptures which are made in cardboard, cast in bronze and painted to look like sculptures. There are also virtual sculptures in which the sculptural three-dimensionality only exists in the viewer’s brain. Two flat images which are pushed into a third dimension through various stereoscopic means.

So the push towards sculpture has been both questions of perception, the apparent illusion of three-dimensionality in these virtual sculptures, wanting to find a weight of immaterial objects, both a physical weight and I suppose a kind of moral of these objects.  

Karel Neil: Who would you say are the artists who have most profoundly influenced your sculptural output?

William Kentridge: It’s difficult to say whose influenced me. There are artists I’ve looked at whose work I’ve looked at a huge amount. Of course, Picasso’s sculptures are central to this, particularly his first painted glasses of absinthe which are a wonderful mixture of sculpture, painting and assemblage. The later sculptures of Cy Twombly stay as a very strong thought in my head. Alexander Calder becomes increasingly important as a way of thinking about movement and sculpture. And no one can think about sculpture without thinking about [Alberto] Giacometti in the 20th century. But the central sculpture I suppose that sits in my head as one of the great works of the last 100 years is Picasso’s sculpture of the nanny goat made out of the assemblage of pots and baskets found in the rubbish heap next to his studio. 

Karel Neil: Your work seems both political and philosophical. How have these two disciplines shaped your vision as an artist, and as a sculptor?

William Kentridge: As an artist I think one always works in two directions or three directions, the third one being the pressure cooker of the studio in which the first two elements comes together. So the one in the world coming towards you. These are both personal events, political events, social events, everything that happens around you in the world which is invited into the studio, some of which are political, some which are philosophical. The nature of certainty and uncertainty, marginal thinking, peripheral thinking to go with peripheral vision. The other element is, of course, the history of image-making. The way in which one’s brain is filled not only with images of the outside world but with ways that they have represented over the years by artists from different cultures, traditions, and histories. And all of these sit together in one’s head and the studio becomes the kitchen in which the different ingredients are cooked. So some of the sculptures are primarily concerned with natures of perception, what is a two-dimensional image that is hidden inside a three-dimensional unrecognisable object. In other words, which objects can you only see when you become monocular or when you close one eye. This, of course, relates to the single-eyed vision of baroque theatre designs and single-point perspective which are both questions of philosophical understandings of the world and ways of representing it.   


Exhibition title:            Why Should I Hesitate? Sculpture

Venue:                         Atrium and Galleries 2-8, Norval Foundation, 4 Steenberg Road, Tokai

Run dates:                    24 August 2019 – 23 March 2020

Exhibition curators:     Karel Nel, Owen Martin, Talia Naicker, Vicky Lekone

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