William Kentridge – Modern Polymath

For the next couple of weeks, an exhibition of work by William Kentridge is showing at Australian Galleries in Melbourne – and I highly recommend it. If you are familiar with his art, you’ll know what to expect; but if the name is new to you, then hopefully you will be curious enough to give it a go. Kentridge is both prolific, and proficient, across many media – this current exhibition includes prints, drawings, sculptures, tapestries and films.

William Kentridge – “Untitled (Drawing from Wozzeck 2)” (2016) – Image sourced from Australian Galleries

I think I first became aware of Kentridge’s work via his multimedia installation, “What Will Come (has already come)” when it was shown at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt in 2007. Thanks to his distinctive style and use of recurring motifs, once you see one of his prints or drawings, you can easily recognise other pieces by him. Using a graphic-based visual language and free-flowing lines in his mark-making, he also incorporates polemic and performance into his work. In addition to his stage design and production, his films and stop-motion animations portray the artist as actor, literally sketching out his lines across paper, wall and screen. Images of coffee pots, oil rigs, megaphones, tripods and windmills feature in many of his works, and he is also drawn to three key texts: Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi”, and Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose”.

Since that first encounter in 2007, I have been fortunate to see a few of Kentridge’s key exhibitions, most notably “Five Themes” (2010) at MoMA, New York (which later came to ACMI, Melbourne), and “Thick Time” (2016) at Whitechapel Gallery, London (and later at The Whitworth, Manchester). I also hope to see his major retrospective at London’s Royal Academy later this year.

All of which makes this exhibition at Australian Galleries a remarkable achievement for a local commercial space. If there is one piece that could sum up Kentridge’s artistic CV, it would have to be “Black Box/Chambre Noire” (2005) – this YouTube video does a pretty good job, but you need to see this mix of installation, automata, video, sculpture and audio in the flesh to appreciate the full effect. Luckily, there is a related video, “Preparing the Flute” (2004), based on a similar installation work, in the current show in Melbourne.

Next week: Lightscape

 

 

 

Hands on the wheel

A couple of weeks ago, I got some hands-on experience of the potter’s wheel (or Wheel Throwing, to use the technical term). I’ve played around with modelling clay before, but this was probably my first attempt at ceramics, and certainly the first experience of wheel throwing. The result (so far) can be seen in the photo below…

The class was a 2.5 hour introductory workshop, conducted by Little Woods Studio in Collingwood (via WeTeachMe), and I highly recommend it. I don’t think I was any good, but that’s not the point. The only pot I managed to make (shown above) is actually quite small, and wouldn’t have happened without a lot of direct assistance from the instructor, who was incredibly patient.

Learning the physical technique of throwing, fixing and initially shaping the clay on the wheel is a skill in itself that needs more than a couple of hours to achieve a consistent level of proficiency.

Then there are the many variables to consider – the quality of the clay and whether it has been prepared sufficiently; the amount of water to use, and how much arm and hand pressure to apply; the stability and responsiveness of the wheel; the height of wheel and stool; and probably the weather (barometric pressure). Then there is knowing when and how quickly to start bringing up the sides of the pot, what thickness of base to settle on, and what wheel speed to achieve – too often, I ended up collapsing the walls just as was beginning to shape the rim; or I applied too much bracing support from my arms so that my hands ripped the clay off the wheel again. (Is this where the phrase, ‘to throw a wobbly’, comes from?)

And this is all before the two-stage process of firing and glazing, when anything might happen to cause the pot to crack or crumble. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to pick up the finished item, a souvenir of my first (and probably only) pottery class.

If nothing else, I now have a huge respect for potters, and a greater appreciation for the fruits of their labours.

Next week: William Kentridge – Modern Polymath

Let There Be Light

Q: What do a selection of 19th century oil paintings, a 50-year old piece of 16mm film, and a 21st century carpet have in common?

A: They are all exhibits in ACMI’s winter show, “Light”, based on works from the Tate’s Collection.

Image: James Turrell, “Raemar, Blue” (1969) on display at ACMI (Photo by Rory Manchee)

Despite ACMI’s brief to showcase the moving image, only three of the art works in the exhibition consist of film. A few more incorporate movement in the form of kinetic sculptures. But otherwise, this is mostly a collection of paintings and photography (and yes, a carpet).

Does it work? Yes, because just as light can be regarded as an essential building material, the use, portrayal and capture of light is essential to render colour, shadow, depth, perspective and narrative in all forms of art.

Arranged thematically, by theory or technique of how light is represented and rendered in art, the exhibition is both diverse and cohesive. It avoids the risk of overload because the selection is quite compact (given the wide remit of the topic). It also avoids choosing works based on technical prowess alone. Therefore, the exhibition succeeds through the combined principles of quality over quantity, and content over form.

It was timely to see mention of The Enlightenment as a key source of artistic exploration, as well as being a driver in the fields of of scientific discovery and liberalism. The exchange of ideas between and across different disciplines has always been essential to progress in the sciences, the arts and the humanities.

My favourite exhibits among the works I hadn’t seen before were by Olafur Eliason, Lis Rhodes and Peter Sedgley. And it’s always a pleasure to immerse yourself in one of James Turrell‘s installations. The only slight disappointment was that visitors are kept at quite a distance from Yayoi Kusama‘s The Passing Winter, an intriguing cube-shaped sculpture that is like one of her infinity rooms in miniature. The last time I saw it in London, it was possible to peer right in to get the full effect.

All in all, highly recommended.

Next week: Hands on the wheel

Literary triggers

Reading for pleasure should be a joy in itself. But to read a book and then be drawn into somewhat tangential (and even trivial) thoughts triggered by personal recollections is an added bonus.

That was partly my reaction when reading Jonathan Coe’s marvelous novel “Mr Wilder and Me”. Ostensibly a fictional account about the making of one of Billy Wilder’s final films, set in Greece and France in the mid-1970s, it manages to incorporate many themes – Hollywood, the creative process, migration, family, the Holocaust, ageing, travel – without selling any of them short. Happily, it’s now being made into a film itself, which confirms the strong narrative at the core of the book. I look forward to seeing it when it is released.

For myself, the novel prompted three travel-related memories:

1. Just like a key time in the novel, my first visit to Greece was also a few years after the collapse of the military junta – currency restrictions, banks only open a couple of hours a day, rationing of hot water in the hostel where I was staying, and construction projects abandoned unfinished because of their association with the military regime

2. The narrator’s love of cheese, stemming from an impromptu visit to a Brie maker, brought back memories of many trips to Paris in the 80s and 90s, and visits to bars like La Tartine, and trying the different types of crottin

3. On my first trip to California, I was fortunate enough to have drinks at the Hotel del Coronado, the setting for Billy Wilder’s most famous film, “Some Like It Hot”, and an iconic resort facility in San Diego Bay.

Seemingly unconnected, yet all evoked by a single work of fiction.

Next week: Let There Be Light