The megaphone first appeared in Kentridge's work in 1990, and it continues to be a common motif. Megaphones "indicate what needs to be heard or seen, outside of oneself," the artist has said. The nude figure is both a self-portrait and a picture of Felix Teitelbaum, one of the main protagonists in Kentridge's work at the time.
Gallery label from William Kentridge: Five Themes, February 24–May 17, 2010.
A South African artist of Eastern European descent, William Kentridge is noted for his vigorous multidisciplinary practice that evokes the tragic and complex history of his homeland. Working in film animation, theater, opera, and sculpture, Kentridge is, above all, a dedicated draftsman, engaging both the process and spontaneity of drawing. His works on paper form the basis of his film animations and often provide inspiration for his efforts in other formats.
While working in the theater in the 1970s, Kentridge began making political resistance posters and prints. Today printmaking remains a cornerstone of his work. Experimenting with various techniques and a wide range of scales, from small and intimate to imposing and life-size, he has completed more than two hundred fifty prints to date. Many of these prints form series with narrative structures that relate to his animations and theatrical productions; some precede his work in other mediums while others follow. He has collaborated with workshops in the United States, England, and South Africa, most extensively with David Krut Fine Art of Johannesburg. Kentridge also self-publishes editions, using a press in his Johannesburg studio.
In the present example, Kentridge used etching and aquatint to create effects that are both delicate and crude. The forlorn nude male with megaphone—a recurring motif in Kentridge's work—relates to his semi-autobiographical characters of Felix Teitlebaum, an artist, and Soho Eckstein, a businessman, both of whom physically resemble Kentridge. Pensive and withdrawn, his face seemingly obscured in shame, the figure can be seen as reflecting the artist's ambiguous feelings toward his own identity and the role of the individual in society. The striking blue line in pastel, which bisects each composition, relates to electric-blue elements Kentridge often adds to the otherwise monochromatic color scheme of his works.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Judith Hecker, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 237.