William Kentridge Universal Archive 2012 | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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Universal Archive 2012

The Universal Archive linocuts began as a series of small ink drawings by William Kentridge on pages of old dictionaries, made using both old and new paintbrushes. The images are made up of both solid and very fine lines, with an unconstrained virtuosity of mark-making. The ink drawings were initially attached to linoleum plates and painstakingly carved by the DKW printmakers and the artist’s studio assistants. As the project expanded, the images were photo-transferred to linoleum plates in order to preserve the original drawings. The images have been printed onto pages from various books, including early copies of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

As a result of the meticulous mechanical translation of a gestural mark, the linocuts push the boundaries of the characteristics traditionally achieved by the medium. The identical replication of the artist’s free brush mark in the medium of linocut makes for unexpected nuance in mark, in contrast with the heavier mark usually associated with this printing method. Furthermore, the paper of the nonarchival old book pages resists the ink, which creates an appealing glossy glow on the surface of the paper.

Many of the images are recurring themes in Kentridge’s art and stage productions: cats, trees, coffee pots, nude figures. While some images are obvious, others dissolve into abstracted forms suggestive of Japanese Ukiyo-e painting. The parallel and displaced relationships that emerge between the image and the text on the pages relate to Kentridge’s inherent mistrust of certainty in creative processes. This becomes part of a project of unraveling master texts, here questioning ideas of knowledge production and the construction of meaning. Aside from the numerous individual images created, there are prints assembled from pieces: cats torn from four sheets, a large tree created from 15 sheets. Groups of prints featuring combinations of individual images – twelve coffee pots, six birds and nine trees – show the artist’s progressive deconstruction of figurative images into abstract collections of lines, which nonetheless remain suggestive of the original form. This movement from figuration to abstraction and back, along with the works’ close relationship to Kentridge’s stage productions, suggests that this body of work holds an intriguing place in Kentridge’s oeuvre on the edge of animation and printmaking.

The projects began in November 2012 and Kentridge has, to date, created almost 50 individual images. The Universal Archive is still ongoing Kentridge continues to expand the project with a series of drawings of old typewriters, amongst others. Some of these images will be printed on two sheets, using dictionaries and encyclopaedias from the mid 1950s.

All the works in the Universal Archive Series are untitled. The reference numbers were internally allocated primarily to allow for the tracking of the works during production. These references were assigned to groups of works as they came into the workshop. For this reason, not all of a single image type (for example, birds) will have sequential numbers. The below information gives an indication of how the works were allocated:

Single page images

Linocut image printed on a single non archival page from Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Each page is then mounted by a single tab attaching page to backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm.


Two page images

Linocut image printed on two sheets of non archival pages from Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Each page is then mounted by a single tab attaching pages to backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm


Four page images

Linocut image printed on four sheets of non archival pages from Encyclopedia Britannica; each sheet is torn, assembled and mounted to backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm with registration marks drawn in red pencil crayon.

The works are a single edition of 50; this has been split into four variations all created from the same printed image which has been torn and reassembled in four different configurations.



Large Assembled Works

Universal Archive (Big Tree) 2012
Linocut printed on 15 sheets of non archival pages from Encyclopedia Britannica; Each page mounted by a single tab attaching pages to backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm
Image size: approx. 72 x 77.4cm | Paper size: 82 x 91cm
Edition size: 30
David Krut Print Workshop (DKW)

This work consists of 15 individual printed pages. Each page is tabbed at the top of the sheet and attached to a backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm. The sheets are all attached in an overlapping pattern.

Large Works

The large works each comprise of selected single images, printed onto separate sheets; these selected images are then mounted in a ‘grid’ form to a single backing sheet of Velin Arches Cover White, 400gsm. The titles of the works correspond to the number of single images in each ‘grid’ (i.e: Nine Trees has 9 single tree images).



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