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March 2023

self-portrait 1 web.jpg

Studio Self-Portraits
William Kentridge

Self Portraits 1 LR.jpeg

Studio Self-Portrait I

William Kentridge

Photogravure with drypoint and hand-painted chine collé on Hahnemühle, Natural White, 300gsm

36cm x 31cm (14⅙" x 12⅓")


Edition size 20

In a group of new editions featuring self-portraits, made in collaboration with Jillian Ross Print, William Kentridge takes the meaning-making modality that he consistently applies to the fragmentary nature of understanding history and applies it to his own image.


This movement towards self-examination has its seeds in the Studio Life series of photogravures that were begun during the lockdowns of 2020 – during which Kentridge suddenly found himself isolated in his studio – and has also been built upon in layers through various projects and bodies of work that complicate and expand on Kentridge’s introspection. Additionally, these works have provided Kentridge and Ross with a testing ground for various technical processes, that are being applied at a larger scale in other projects.


In the four prints, the image of the artist is made up using elements of collage, featuring pieces of photographs, pieces of drawings, pieces of drawings on pieces of photographs, fragments of text and other images and marks, allowing the portraits to be formed layer by layer. These collaged and hand-worked images are then photographed, flattening them and moving them through a different technology, after which they are transformed through a third modality of photogravure into etchings. The images are further worked into with drypoint directly onto the copper plates, during which process the mark of the artist’s hand is reintroduced in the images. The proofing and printing of the plates is also an analogue activity, bringing the images full circle in terms of making methodology.


The form of collage within these self-portraits speaks to a sense of the self that is compound – a compendium of selves, rather than a monolithic self-hood that is singular or complete. The subsequent translation and mediation of the images through various techniques and processes also speaks to the concept of a self that can be understood in various ways, can be edited and worked upon over and over, with each variation offering a different lens through which to see, or nuance through which to understand.


The use of photography twice over – first to capture elements to be cut up and collaged, and second to capture the completed collage, thereby smoothing it into a single plane so that it can be transformed further into an etching – is also relevant to this complexity of selves. Susan Sontag, in her reflections on how the proliferation of images of ourselves is changing our relationships to ourselves, has suggested that “the problem with photography is that … it’s too imperious a way of seeing.” In the self-portrait as collage turned photograph turned photogravure, Kentridge makes visible Sontag’s sense of the “dialectical exchange between simplicity and complexity, like the one between self-revelation and self-concealment. The first truth is that every situation is extremely complicated and that anything one thinks about thereby becomes more complicated…The second truth is that one cannot live out all the complexities one perceives, and that to be able to act intelligently, decently, efficiently, and compassionately demands a great deal of simplification.”


American author, Mark Helprin, touches on this composite self too, in a way that resonates with Kentridge’s images of his own multiplicity:


April 2023, Kentridge sent Ross four photographs of drawings translated from a series of photocollages made from the drawing series Self-Portrait: Waiting To Forget Something (I-IV), made from charcoal, pencil, digital print and collage on paper. The photographs were later translated into print using photogravure.

Listen to Kentridge describe drawing himself.                                                 - Film Courtesy Goodman Gallery

“However many of me there are, I have managed to fuse them into one. I cannot tell myself apart any more than the heavily breathing fox hiding under branches or in brush perceives in the mirror of his wide and alert eye a new dainty self or a different sad self or an admirably reflective self.”


Ultimately, the viewer is being led through these works to a concept of the self that is more akin to a collection of marginalia, to be curated and collated in a plethora of ways at any given moment, in response to the complexity of both our interior worlds and the world outside, through which we are in constant motion. In this context, a fragmented view of the self is perhaps the most accurate and complete way of understanding one’s self, or any self, and the one most likely to lean towards compassion – for self, for others and for the history that we are both creating and making sense of from one moment to the next.

- Text by Jacqueline Flint, 2023

Published by Jillian Ross Print

Collaborating Master Printer Jillian Ross 

Photogravure by Steven Dixon, Luke Johnson (Edmonton, Canada) 

Editioning and image development at David Krut Workshop (Johannesburg, South Africa)

Editioning printers Jillian Ross (Saskatoon, Canada)

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