Drawing from Waiting for the Sibyl (Comrade Tree, I report to you)

William Kentridge
Drawing from Waiting for the Sibyl (Comrade Tree, I report to you), 2020
Ink wash, red pencil and collage on hemp and sisal fiber Phumani handmade paper, mounted on raw cotton
Work: 292 x 295 cm

Exploring and championing a breadth of mediums, such as animation, sculpture, performance and drawing, William Kentridge’s complex creations are multifaceted in form, resonating with audiences through their unifying exploration of the very fabric of our existence. Revisiting and reacting to philosophical, historical or political tropes, Kentridge conjures myriad themes in his polymorphic works which are experimental and conceptually rich. Kentridge proposes a way of seeing art and life as a continuous process of change rather than as a controlled world of certainties. He constantly questions the impact of artistic practice in today’s world and has investigated how identities are shaped through shifting ideas of history, and place, looking at how we construct our histories and what we do with them. William Kentridge’s botanical drawings of trees are rendered in Indian ink on the pages of old encyclopedias, and attempt to capture the forms of trees indigenous to the area around Johannesburg. Using photographic references and drawing loosely in Indian ink, the plants are grown page by page – each page holding only a fragment of the whole. The complete botanical forms emerge more by recognition than by a pre-existing clarity as to what the plant must look like, as the pages are shifted, layered, torn, pieces added, marks added – until the tree reveals itself as complete. Drawing from Waiting for the Sibyl (Comrade Tree, I report to you) is the latest addition to Kentridge’s series of large-scale ink drawings of trees and phrases on found paper. These drawings go hand in hand with his new opera project, Waiting for the Sibyl, which premiered at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in September 2019. Waiting for the Sibyl was created in response to Alexander Calder’s Work in Progress – the only operatic work created by Calder and staged at the Opera in Rome in 1968. “I thought that the paper, the fragments of paper with which I have always expressed myself , were the right elements to start the dialogue with Calder”. In Kentridge's mind, the floating papers immediately evoked the image of the Cumaean Sibyl, the priestess who wrote her prophecies on oak leaves. The floating papers, like loose leaves, with the prophesies written on them, are blown away by the wind.