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Kentridge on cats and Cecil Skotnes

30th May 2009 | Other items by

Cecil was the first living and working as a full-time artist that I knew. The Skotnes family were friends with my parents. I think the friendship was somehow based on a Liberal Party affinity, of which they were all members. When I was five or six, around 1961, he gave us a cat print as a Christmas gift. That image has stuck with me, for two reasons. The first was that I always thought it was a self-portrait of Cecil, with his moustache whiskers and his bright, cat-like eyes and eyebrows.  But then it also – as good art so often does – changed the way that I saw cats, the animals themselves. Over the years I have drawn many cats, all of them in one way or another indebted to that first image of the cat. I now have two cats as guardians on top of my front gate. I tracked down Cecil’s print for my 2005 show at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and had it displayed in a room of images by artists whose work influenced me during my childhood and early years as an artist. I think Cecil had an influence on the people he taught, not ne cessarily in terms of his own iconography but in a sense of possbility, of saying that the restrictions of the era should not, and need not be, all-encompassing and unbridgeable. He also, for many artists, set an agenda of trying to find a ground between imagery derived from African woodcarving and a European graphic tradition.

from Art South Africa, vol. 07 issue 04, Winter 2009, p. 14

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