CARL ROBERTS IS A LOCAL SCULPTOR WHO HAS ACHIEVED INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM
Story and pictures by Stephen Smith
As we walk around his home and garden, it’s easy to see why internationally acclaimed artist Carl Roberts must be inspired by nature, for he is surrounded by it. Soaring trees surround the home, and when Carl shows me the materials he works with, they’re almost all a natural resource – wood, bone and stone, although he does also work with metal.
And from these seemingly simple materials Carl is able to create things of incredible beauty, to release the beauty hidden within objects, produce sculptures that tell a tale and evoke emotions in those who look upon them. There’s a sculpture in Carl’s lounge of a raven-haired beauty that reminds me of my wife, Emily, and I would buy it in an instant if I could afford to. I say so, and Carl smiles. “When you finish a piece and you love it, you have to agree then and there that you’ll never sell it and then stick to that decision. Otherwise you’re left with none of your own work. My wife and I loved that piece from the moment I finished it, and we’ve been offered a lot of money for it now. We’ll never sell it.”
Sitting in his workshop, which seems chaotic to the outsider but must have its own mysterious organisation to it, Carl tells me his story, how he landed up as an accidental artist. “I’ve been a fireman, managed a dairy farm, worked as a heavy-duty truck driver, and throughout all of these jobs I was doing some sort of art, which I’d started doing at junior school. Then I applied to be a cadet journalist but was rejected because I’d failed matric. By then I’d saved quite a lot of money from driving trucks, enough to study, and I applied to study journalism at Rhodes University. They rejected me at first but I managed to convince them to give me a chance. Journalism didn’t last though, and within three months I had changed to Fine Art.”
Carl tells of how his art lecturer would sometimes cancel lectures and instead pack the students into a kombi for an excursion to the local nature reserve. There they would go for walks, swim in the river and, most importantly, look for materials to sculpt. It was there that Carl first found a piece of animal bone and decided to work with it. Now it’s his favourite medium.
Carl is a collector, of materials and tools. Everywhere you look on his property is something in which Carl sees potential. Whale or giraffe bone, a piece of wood that he dragged from a bog, a seal’s scapula, stones from the Eastern Cape, the skull of what must have been a scary animal in real life… These are looked at, felt and considered, sometimes played with until Carl is able to decide what they will become.
We sit in his workshop and I watch him work, his faithful dog by his side, and I’m jealous, as I often am when I see someone who has undeniably found their calling in this world. He’s working on a little metal figurine but before long he puts it down and starts sanding a piece of wood. I feel guilty, thinking that perhaps I’m preventing him from settling into his routine, but Carl explains unprompted, “I’m always working on a few things at a time. My ADHD helps me with that – as soon as I get bored of working on this I move on to that. I’m prolific, I think, by artists’ standards.”
These days Carl’s work is collected internationally and he is represented by 10 galleries across the globe. He has relationships with collectors from as far afield as Japan and Poland who regularly buy his work, and if it were within my means he would have another one here in Hillcrest.
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