William Kentridge – If You Have No Eye
By 2014, William Kentridge had been drawing trees on dictionary sheets for some time. In 2012, he was invited to deliver the Norton Lectures at Harvard University. He began preparing these in 2011, and wrote the first four lectures quite quickly, but then found himself at a standstill. One morning , while pondering the fifth and sixth lectures, Kentridge began to draw with ink. A morning of “productive procrastination” turned into a series of over 70 linocuts – The Universal Archive – created with the David Krut Workshop from 2011 to 2015. Using a good brush and another which was used, with splayed bristles which made less precise marks, Kentridge began the series by drawing figures, coffee pots, a large vase with flowers, and other recurrent images in his oeuvre, including trees. The marks of the bad brush suggested to Kentridge ‘the plethora and the ordered randomness of leaves, or the feathery twigs at the end of a branch,’ as he put it.
The ink drawings were photocopy-transferred onto small linoleum plates, just the size of a single dictionary page, and a team of carvers was gathered with a view to re-creating the drawings through relief printing. Copper engraving tools were used to carve in minute detail. The images were printed onto pages from three different 1950s dictionaries, all chosen for their slight difference in color and the flatness of their surface. Some images were printed on a single dictionary page, some two pages, later fifteen and thirty pages.
In this climactic work of the series, If You Have No Eye, 67 linoleum plates were used to print onto 104 pages, which were then variously torn, cut and left whole. Each piece was then assembled and collaged, like a puzzle, onto another layer of dictionary sheets that serve as the background field. The dictionary paper and both glossy and matte inks helped the tree to find its form. The entire process – from preparing the linoleum, carving the plates, printing the pieces and assembly, to arriving at a final result; and then producing the full edition – took two years to complete.