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Durban sculptor showcases his art at solo exhibition

Carl Roberts' exhibition is titled ‘Ordering Chaos’ and is being exhibited at the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg. His fascinating sculptures in wood, stone, bone and bronze express a balance between simplicity and chaos.

DURBAN sculptor Carl Roberts brings his solo exhibition in the Tatham Art Gallery, in Pietermaritzburg, to a close on Sunday, April 21.

The prolific artist is known as the Bone Man for his ability to eek life out of organic material. His ‘once in a decade’ exhibition is titled Ordering Chaos, and shows work in wood, stone, bone and bronze.

Roberts said this exhibition was his ‘most important to date’, and the common theme running through the older and newer pieces in the collection is that they are predominantly sculpted from organic material.

According to Roberts, whose work currently resides in 22 countries, the real art is in finding the balance between simplicity and chaos.

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“An organic thing, like a tree stump, is chaotic, it’s unstructured and then you think I can do that, cut away this, chop off that, or add this – but you try to retain the chaos because there is something beautiful about it. You want it simplified but not so simplified that it’s boring. It must be somewhere in between,” said Roberts.


Carl Roberts’ work, ‘Unknown Shore’. Photo: Heidi Christie

The sculptor’s two current themes are ‘tortured wood’ which is carved into grotesque shapes, and an examination of the artist’s mortality, following post-Covid health concerns.

“I’ve made some uglies – a series of unpalatable works, like the Covid Cur. It’s not a relaxing art piece and is unsuitable for your dining room table because it’s angst-ful. It’s a dog with a beastly head and tail between its legs. Covid was an angst-ful time for me as I was on my own for seven months,” said Roberts.

The exhibition includes a sculpture that Roberts believes is his opus magnum. Titled Unknown Shore, the piece has a whale jawbone presented as a boat, with a human passenger made from the mammal’s scapula. The sculptor admits that he has a penchant for boat shapes as a metaphor for life’s journey.

“This work is about feeling vulnerable after a health scare. All artists create autobiographical works, and this asks where we come from, where we are going and what unknown shore will we land on, ” said Roberts.

The artist has experimented with bronze casting in a foundry located in his Hillcrest garden, a creative process that began with a knuckleduster request from Roberts’ son. The sculptor rigorously ensures that every bronze edition is unique with an individual patina and base.

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Roberts said, “It is boring to make things the same.”

The artist views his solo exhibition at the Tatham Art Gallery as a privilege and feels honoured to be in the company of the many eminent artworks in their collection. The gallery, which was founded in 1903, includes work by international and South African artists and has an extensive educational and outreach programme.


Thulisiswe Mseleku, gallery manager, and Carl Roberts. Photo: Sandy Woods

Pinky Nkabinde, Tatham Art Gallery education officer, said exhibitions inspire developing artists.

“The Tatham Art Gallery is an institute for education and an asset for the city as we try to bridge the gap between those with art knowledge and those without. We had many school visits and walkabouts for this exhibition. There aren’t as many sculptors as there are other artists, and the sculpture work Carl does is out of this world – he takes something and gives it life. To see these sculptures in a space like this is amazing. Artists like Carl are an inspiration for our learners”.

Tatham Art Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00.

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