In tandem: William Kentridge and Mateo Lopez exchange ideas. Pictures: �Rolex/Marc Shoul

‘Artists are scavengers. Everything is up for grabs.” This is the world according to William Kentridge. And perhaps one of the reasons he agreed to be a mentor for this year’s Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

It is one of the most exciting and generous international arts initiatives, where already established yet young artists team up with grand masters in the art world including art, theatre, literature, music, dance, film and, for the first time this year, also architecture.

The programme was created to assist extraordinary, rising artists to achieve their full potential. Through a vigorous process, it seeks out artists around the world and brings them together for a year of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.

“Mentoring wasn’t a category in my head. I first had to consider whether I have anything to teach,” says Kentridge.

He is the first South African mentor and his protégé is a Colombian artist, 33-year-old Mateo Lopez.

“I had to get to a place of knowledge that I would not be able to do a year-long mentorship with some-one constantly in attendance,” explained Kentridge. “That would simply dash their expectations.”

Instead he opted for an artist who intrigued him and who could fly in and out of his life for very specific periods of creative input. “I couldn’t select someone who had a gulf of need,” he says.

He liked that it was not a programme aimed at students, but at already established artists.

Selecting Lopez was an easy choice. “I saw things in the work that showed me both potential and possibility in working together,” he explains.

Their most personal collaboration has just culminated in a six-week period where Lopez was working in parallel with Kentridge on a specific animation programme. “It’s about learning a new language,” says Kentridge about the Lopez experience. And at this point it is still very difficult to say what the artist will take away, because it is as much about the conversation as the creativity.

Kentridge was first intrigued by Lopez’s drawing techniques, but also by the fact that he works in 3D. The young artist has an architecture background, which means that his drawings are technical creations, which had Kentridge call everyone in his team to watch his particular and precise technique.

“I work roughly and with his architectural genes, his drawings are much more specific.”

But he also knew there was a meeting point for them as artists. “There are moments of similarity in our work.”

Lopez travelled to some of the Kentridge exhibitions around the world where he could witness the artist at work. “It’s the process that’s so intriguing,” he notes.

It’s about a particular studio and how it works, how to solve problems, new and different ways to approach works, as well as the discipline of work. Because of their different styles, it has brought freedom to Lopez and his art.

“It’s been about releasing myself,” he says. “Everything doesn’t have to be that accurate.”

At the end of their collaboration, nothing but growth is expected and with that in mind, the partnership is carefully monitored because of the expectations of rewarding encounters for everyone involved. It has to be a two-way street to work successfully.

With that in mind, the work Kentridge and Lopez have been doing almost in tandem has to germinate. There’s no saying at this stage what, if anything, will happen, but that’s simply the bonus, not the point of the exercise. “It’s about trying different techniques,” says Kentridge.

Local installation and performance artist Nicolas Hlobo, who was mentored by world-famous sculptor Anish Kapoor last year, says that for him it was much more about the conversation than about the work. “I feel very strongly about my individuality and didn’t want to compromise that,” he says. But he did like watching how the master worked, how he ran his studio and the possibilities of learning about the processes. “It was all very enlightening for me,” he says, and as both artists had tough years in 2011 on personal levels, Rolex has encouraged them to keep their mentoring partnership going.

It’s also the coming together of the mentors and protégés from across the years at different times during the year and afterwards that keeps on giving. It is like a large artistic family where each year a new group is added to bring greater riches.

“We all become too comfortable in our studios,” says Lopez and they all agree that the process is never conclusive, but rather a continuous one with artists constantly seeking for answers through their work.

“It’s about tilling and fertilising the soil,” explains Hlobo.

New Kentridge exhibition:

The last time Capetonians engaged with a solo exhibition from William Kentridge was five years ago, so a forthcoming exhibition of his recent work is quite timeous and welcome.

This upcoming exhibition draws on elements from his most recent work, |plus new work made especially for the exhibition, allowing the gallery to |become a space where different bodies |of work collide and make new connections.

In March and April this year, Kentridge delivered a series of six lectures, the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, at Harvard University.

In June The Refusal of Time, a five-channel video installation with complex soundscape by Philip Miller and a breathing machine, was first presented at Documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany.

In October the survey exhibition William Kentridge: Fortuna opened in Rio de Janeiro.

In November The Refusal of Time was seen at MAXXI in Rome, and the related theatre piece Refuse the Hour was performed to sell-out audiences in Rome and Athens.

Entitled No, It Is, the exhibition runs from December 18 to February 2 at the Goodman Gallery in Woodstock.