COMMENT FROM THE ARTIST (August 2009)
My name is Carl Roberts. I am a sculptor. This page tells the story of my life so far.
BIRTH AND TRAVEL
I was born in Bristol, England, in 1957. My father, Eric Rautenbach, was a pilot and my mother, Jennie, was a physical training instructor in the RAF. The year I was born, my father was sent to Germany as part of the NATO occupational forces, where he crashed his jet and died during an exercise. My sister Anya was two years old.
My mother, my sister and I travelled to South Africa to live near my grandparents. It was in South Africa that my mother met and later married my father’s brother, Theo Rautenbach. We went to live with him in Kitwe, Zambia, and later Benoni, Newcastle and Pretoria in South Africa. He was a smoker and after several years of unhappy marriage died of lung cancer. I had gained Louise and André – simultaneously my step-siblings, my cousins and brother and sister.
On a voyage back from visiting friends and family in England, my mother met Robbie (Arthur) Roberts. They were married in Durban, Robbie adopted me and my three siblings and we all moved to Tanga, Tanzania. After a relatively stable four and a half years we moved to East London, South Africa. It was here that I finished my schooling by failing matric.
BOY BECOMES MAN
I became a fireman in East London simply because my dad kicked me out of the house and the fire department was a short distance away and the job came with accommodation. After two years I resigned and went to Phalaborwa to visit a friend. There I worked as an assistant in a dairy for five months, but when my friend resigned, so did I.
I went back to East London. I had inherited a small amount of money from my grandmother, so managed to do very little but fish, dive, hang around pubs and drink beer for seven months. When the money was spent I went to Durban. I joined the railways and drove extra heavy trucks long distance. By hanging around the depot all day and driving all night, I managed to accrue a lot of overtime.
THE RHODES YEARS
Unable to spend all the money I’d earned, I decided to go to university. I visualised a sort of long holiday, with lots of socialising at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I never expected to succeed, and a university drop-out is better than a failed matriculant.
I initially registered for a Journalism degree and had to obtain special permission to take extra subjects: Fine Art and Philosophy. This time at Rhodes changed my life. I was interested in and excited about my studies and I worked hard. I was respected. I discovered that I was not as stupid as I had thought and not everyone who went to university was a genius. I became confident. I had a great social life and was in one town for 9 years. I was fulfilled and happy.
Passing my first year presented a dilemma. I had planned to drop out and now was about to run out of money. The problem was solved as in my first year in art school I learned pottery. Art in the Park in Port Elizabeth provided an outlet and the income derived from my flops, experiments and early efforts surprised me and was able to sustain me. In my fourth year I was given a job running a seismograph, which greatly eased the financial uncertainty.
ME, THE TEACHER
I graduated from Rhodes in 1985, winning the Purvis Prize for the best student, and was given academic half colours. On graduating I became a graduate assistant and later a junior lecturer at Rhodes University. Since then I have lectured in the Fine Art Departments at the Universities of Durban-Westville and for a short period the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. In 1993 I received my Masters’ Degree in Fine Art. All in all, I lectured for eight years.
ART AND LIFE
Looking back, art was an obvious choice, as I have always made things. As a child I made clay pots from mud in the yard, cars from cardboard, and dragons from paper-maché. I enjoyed attending Elaine Savages’ art lessons during my school holidays. However, at De La Salle where I finished my schooling there weren’t any art classes. This – and the fact that I am attention deficient – may explain my appalling terrorist-like behaviour, general disinterest and failure at that school.
As an adult my interest in art continued. I carved leather goods in the Fire Department, wooden bookshelves in Phalaborwa and painted fantasy landscapes whilst a truck driver.
In 1995 I became a full time artist, and that is where I am today.
“I seldom have preconceived ideas; the material suggests images. The image chosen depends upon what lies in the subconscious, elements of chance and the spirit of the times.”
“I saw a short film called “Becoming Visible” by Janet Solomon and I can recommend it to all. It is powerful and important! There is a little about it at www.becomingvisible.africa It is about the push for oil and gas development on our east coast and the consequences to marine life. It highlights that this section of coastline experienced it’s highest ever recording of whale stranding during and after a 2016 marine seismic survey looking for oil and gas reserves. This survey was granted an extension into the whale migration season. It questions the connection between these events.
One of those consequences is that some 20 whales have washed up on our KZN shores. I was not aware of the reasons for my dead whale when I gleaned my whale bones from a beached whale near Ramsgate nor do I imagine that my friend and fellow sculptor, when he garnered his bones from a different whale. One of which he gave to me. To me, it was a boon, albeit a tragic one and I have ended up with two whole whale ribs and a few other broken pieces of whale bone. It is a magnificent medium having all the wonderful qualities of bone, but these are of the super-sized variety. The bone itself has a say in the outcome because I like and want to keep its shape, I want to retain its magnificent size and by doing so remind one of its origin and the plight of the animal. A memento mori.
Someone remarked that the subject, a whale hunt, was regrettable. I am not a hunter. I would never kill a whale or glorify a whale hunt. However, I do want people to think about these magnificent animals and their predicament. In art there are many art historical references from Hokusai to Melville and I live in a town that once had a whaling station.
In this work I attempt to make visible a quest, a search for the Holy Grail of symbiosis, meaning and happiness in a world of conflicting needs. Like Herman Melville’s story of “Moby Dick; or The Whale”, the sculpture is symbolic and a metaphor for life.”