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Kentridge’s Artistry Draws on Lifelong Vision

Friday, April 8, 2011

William Kentridge’s passion for art and drawing has been a constant since he was a young boy. Trouble is, he joked, “unlike most children, I forgot to stop.”

Luckily for the masses that cherish the now 55-year-old Johannesburg, South Africa native’s work as a visual artist, filmmaker and human rights advocate, he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Kentridge, who received the 2010 Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy with USD President Mary E. Lyons and other university officials in attendance last November, came to the University of San Diego campus on Wednesday to share his story.

His speech, which closed the annual three-day Kyoto Prize Symposium in San Diego, delved into the history of Johannesburg, its instability during the era of apartheid, and how the 130-year-old city influenced and shaped his vision and process as an artist. He also showed a preview of an animated film he’s scheduled to release next month called, “Other Faces.”

Kentridge, educated in Johannesburg colleges and in theater and mime in Paris, applied his wealth of knowledge into a career that includes major art exhibitions in San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and Sydney, Australia. He has also done opera and theatre artwork that has been featured in South Africa, France and last year, his production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose, was presented at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

But it is his many exquisite and unique animated films — “drawings in motion” — that have catapulted him into the mainstream of consciousness. Beginning with 1989’s Johannesburg: 2nd Greatest City After Parisand through the upcoming film, the painstaking levels Kentridge goes to both capture the scene and bring it to life is a gift. He termed his work as “stone-age filmmaking” which, according to a description written in a Kyoto Prize news release, is “the laborious process of filming, frame by frame, a series of ceaselessly changing charcoal and pastel drawings.”

His technique involves constantly erasing and reapplying, thus showcasing the “instability” of life. “Erasure is essential to the process,” he said.

The approach and the originality of Kentridge’s work serves as an inspiration for artists, regardless of age.

“The most important advice I can offer is to have confidence in the activity. Good ideas come from working and that’s important because the work will define who you are.”

—   Ryan T. Blystone

Click on the links to learn more about the Kyoto Prize and the annual San Diego Kyoto Laureate Symposium, which includes USD’s annual participation along with other area colleges and universities.

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