BY: Kim Berman

Artist Proof Studio has the privilege of launching the production of a remarkable new etching by William Kentridge. It has been adapted from his wash drawings of the Forest of Trees. It will be on exhibition at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair from 18-20 Feb 2022.

You Who Never Arrived is a coffee-lift etching on handmade Phumani paper mounted on raw cotton cloth in the technique and style of the series ‘Triumphs and Laments’, which was published by APS (between 2016 – 2022 see APS website). It folds as an accordion book into a clam-shell box, and when opened and hung, will show a close connection in technique and style with the Triumphs and Laments series which will be exhibited at the London Royal Academy in 2023. The series was published by APS between 2016 – 2022, so it is fitting that we publish this work. The etching is the first tree of its kind on this scale, and will be printed as an edition of 20 comprising 12 copper plates on Phumani sisal and cotton handmade paper (SIZE) 173x186cm.

The technical virtuosity of this work presents as majestically as his remarkable ink-wash drawings, but can be available to his collectors in a limited edition. And like many of his Tree drawings, You Who Never Arrived is resplendent and evocative of both our current moment in time and our history. Trees are timeless, they are witnesses to joys and atrocities. They are our legacy and our future.

The extensive Kentridge studio website records a short statement (compiled by Robyn Penn) that give an insight into his preoccupation and fascination with trees:

When I was nine years old we planted two white stinkwoods in the garden. All my childhood I waited for the trees to grow, to be strong enough to hold a hammock. They refused. Twenty years later I returned to live in the house with my family and the trees were mature. Fifteen years later, the trees were magnificent. And then one of them was struck by lightning and died. The shock, not just the hole in the shade canopy, the gap in the garden, but rather the shaking of the belief that a tree is a gift for future generations or – if not for future generations – then at least for other people… its lifespan should be so much longer. How could the tree die before me? No. If the tree could die, how vulnerable are we or am I?

The production of this work has a special context as part of the printmaking collaborations with Kentridge at APS. I will take the reader on a short walk through some of the tree works that have had a profound and meaningful impact in the life of APS and its artists, and has led to what we regard as one of the best of our print-publications.

Where shall we place our hope is the starting point for our brief walk through the trees.

On March 26th 2020,the night of the Presidents speech declaring a hard lockdown for 21 days, I drove to William Kentridge’s house and shared with him the idea for the Lockdown Collection, conceived by business entrepreneur Carl Bates, mutual friend, design and marketing specialist, Lauren Woolf, who invited me to join them in realising an ambitious idea to raise funds for artists during Lockdown. Kentridge immediately gave a work that had a poignancy for the moment in time and that helped to launch the campaign. Where Shall We Place Our Hope?, a drawing of a great tree in full foliage, inked across a ledger page from a late-nineteenth-century mine on the Rand provided the anchor for the campaign.

Confined to our homes during the hard lockdown and largely separated from nature and our neighbours, the image of this grand tree in full foliage has given us a glimpse of continued life and regeneration. The TLC successfully raised funds for the Vulnerable Artist Fund (VAF) to support as many vulnerable individuals in the visual arts as possible. Both prominent and emerging South African artists followed in creating or sharing their artwork that spoke to COVID-19 and its unfolding crises.

Kentridge’s generous contributions of the Blue rebus texts “WEIGH ALL TEARS” and “OH TO BELIEVE IN ANOTHER WORLD” printed in editions of 60 allowed the TLC to extend its reach and messaging of support for the arts. Close to R4 Million has been raised to date, with over 520 grants awarded as well as 60 art student bursaries.

Allow me to take you on a walk through the Kentridge trees. “Where shall we place our hope?” provides a beautiful leaf-filled tree on which to place our questions and ponder how this uncertainty of covid may remix our fates. Produced by Kentridge as part for the his work on the Opera “Waiting for the Sibyl” the leaves and the text hold meaning and potency. Just two years prior to this Kentridge generously presented a lecture at the University of Johannesburg with snippets of his opera-in progress. He also made two small etchings of a tree and a leaf, which were editioned and sold on the evening as a fundraiser. Each print was offered as “fates” and opportunities creating 30 bursaries for art students at APS.

As Kentridge writes in the programme notes to the opera:

The story of the Cumaean Sibyl was that you would go and ask her a question. She would write your fate on an oak leaf and place the leaf at the mouth of her cave, accumulating a pile of oak leaves. But as you went to retrieve your particular oak leaf, a breeze would blow up and swirl the leaves about, so that you never knew if you were getting your fate or someone else’s fate. The fact that your fate would be known, but you couldn’t know it, is the deep theme of our relationship of dread, of expectation, of foreboding towards the future.’

Tree and Leaf (From Waiting for the Sybil) Fundraiser (July 2019)
Bushveld Tree Fundraiser for APS (Aug 2020)

The next stop on the walk is a glimpse into the mounting of over 10 tree drawings by APS.

The Phumani Paper archival paper mill, that I initiated as a research project and is now managed by Nathi Ndlandla and Dumisani Dlamini. It is a small handmade papermill at the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. The mill makes beautiful handmade papers and we have designed a special sized-paper from a hemp and cotton fibre mix specifically for William Kentridge’s drawings. The paper allows the absorbency and tensile strength to retain a vast range of tonalities of the ink washes.

All the latest drawings produced in ‘tiles’ on each sheet of paper destined for exhibitions all over the world are mounted on raw cotton cloth, sewn into panels and folded to allow for the ease of shipping.

When discussing the potential origin of the tree drawings, Kentridge refers to a memory from childhood:

Between the ages of three and six years old, his father worked as the lawyer representing 156 defendants in the Treason Trial in South Africa (1956 -1961). At the bottom of the garden of the family home there was a group of fir trees and on the veranda, a mosaic table. To his young mind, when William’s father went to work each day, it was to the ‘Trees and Tiles’.

So it is with the phrases that appear in the tree drawings. They are not declarations of supposed truth, but rather set in motion the ongoing process through which language, meaning, and ultimately truth constructs itself.

These trees provide a canopy for the extended art industry and hundreds (if not thousands) of people who benefit from this force of nature.  William Kentridge has been described as one of the greatest minds and talents of our era. To APS and the many artists that benefit from our collaboration, he is a partner and collaborator in the fullest sense of the meaning.


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