Artist and Model: Parcours d’Atelier

William Kentridge


Walking, thinking, stalking the image. Many of the hours spent in the studio are hours of walking, pacing back and forwards across the space gathering the energy, the clarity to make the first mark. It is not so much a period of planning as a time of allowing the ideas surrounding the project to percolate. A space for many different possible trajectories of an image, of a sequence to suggest themselves, to be tested as internal projections. This pacing is often in relation to the sheet of paper waiting on the wall. As if the physical presence of the paper is necessary for the internal projections to seem realisable. The physical size and material enforces a scale, a paticular starting point, a composition. The myriad of possibilities is called to order. This pacing is sometimes ten minutes, sometimes a morning. (And the pacing is sometimes replaced by sharpening of pencils, gathering of materials, hunting for just the right music – all different forms of productive procrastination).

It is as if before the work can begin (the visible finished work of the drawing, film, or sculpture) there is a different invisible work done.  A kind of minimalist theatre work involving an empty space, a protagonist (the artist walking, or pacing, or stuck immobile) and an antagonist – the paper on the wall. This work, these studio walks, are the subject of the  films in 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès.

The studio is the traditional home of the image, and so works about the studio become about both the activity and the history of image making. The drawings of Anne getting out of the bath are both an exploration of cinema drawing, successive drawings like successive frames of a film, but also continue the images of Degas and Bonnard of naked women in the bath (more specifically with Bonnard, looking at his wife as model), the model as intimate rather than either allegorical, or objective, or idealised.

The fragments for Georges Méliès are both an homage to the early filmmaker, and a series of reflections on the studio as subject. There are a series of variations: the studio as model, the artist as model, and of course the model as model. The studio is the subject but also the canvas.

In his short films Georges Méliès painted his own backdrops in his studio and performed in front of them. And filmed his performances. The films are the combination of his paintings and his performance. He is both showman, presenter, and actor, rather like Courbet in his painting of the artists studio.

In my short films of walking, catching, and falling, I was thinking back too to the early films of Bruce Nauman in his studio and of course back to the footage of Jackson Pollock filmed dripping his painting into existence.

The studio is an enclosed space, both physically but also psychically, an enlarged head; the pacing in the studio is the equivalent of ideas spinning round in one’s head, as if the brain is a muscle and can be exercised into fitness, into clarity. So the fragments are the internal noise, each finished fragment a demonstration of those impulses that emerge and are abandoned before the work begins.

Journey to the Moon, the one narrative film follows the story of Méliès great film Voyage dans la Lune. In the film I use only those objects and drawings in the studio that had been used in the other fragments for Méliès, as if they were all the preliminary pacing for the final film. The espresso cups for a telescope, the mocha machine as the rocket ship, saucer for a moon, negative ants as stars.  I discovered that the studio, which I had hoped could be a whole universe, became only the enclosed rocket.

I had made the film hoping to escape the confines of the studio, but ended up still stuck inside it, looking out through the window of the rocket ship (i.e. staring at a sheet of black paper pinned to the wall of the studio).

Published in edited form in Rosenthal, Mark (ed), William Kentridge: Five Themes, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Norton Museum of Art, Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2009.