Award-winning artist Chris Soal uses unconventional found objects such as toothpicks and bottle caps in conjunction with concrete and other industrial materials in his through provoking, textural work. He’s currently making a name for himself for his visually engaging and conceptually rich installations.
The winner of the PPC Imaginarium, Soal’s Stellar Scintillation piece earned him a Most Beautiful Object in South Africa nomination in 2019 and he is the youngest artist to show at NIROX sculpture park in Johannesburg to date. His current show Relic is part of the larger Margins of Error group exhibition and his solo exhibition in The Covered Space is titled Elegy. We spoke to him about his new NIROX pieces.
Tell us a little about how your work has evolved over the years - these latest works are much more monumental, how have you got to this point?
The material is the initial starting point for all my work and plays an integral part in directing the outcome. It’s a fluid process, where the material formation inspires a specific observation, which inspires research, which then again feeds back into the body of work. It is an organic cycle. I think that with regards to scale, I began by experimenting on a small scale, learning with every work about the possibilities of the material and pushing the limits at every turn, over the last four years. It’s really about working with what you have, and putting one foot in front of the other, and having faith in the process.
How did you come to be part of the NIROX show - how did your residency and the amount of time spent in the setting influence the work?
I went out to NIROX numerous times over the last year to take inspiration from the setting as well as to identify a location - so I got very familiar with the landscape. My stay at NIROX was not a typical residency in that I was busy project-managing the installation of my outdoor sculpture Relic (2019 - 2021) and installing my solo exhibition in The Covered Space titled Elegy. I did however get to interact with the other artists-in-residence during my time there and that was really inspiring and encouraging – the sharing of ideas over meals and so on.
What challenges did you come up against working at this scale and outdoors for the first time?
I was fortunate in that the material that lent itself to this project was concrete, which weathers well. I wanted to use it to contrast against the beauty of the landscape and draw into focus the Park's proximity to Johannesburg. Relic (2019 - 2021) began as a happy accident in the studio - with concrete being poured over toothpicks and a small piece breaking off, revealing the negative, haunting impression left behind by their absence.
I immediately began to see associations to tree bark, barren landscapes, dead coral, eroded marble columns and such. Then it became about the relationship of form within the landscape and how to both compete with and complement the existing features. I felt that the fragmented suggestion of the toothpick impression left behind in the concrete lent itself to totemic, column and tree-like forms, and the work developed from there. This was definitely new terrain for me having to collaborate with engineers to make sure the structure was secure, having to consider things like scale in a landscape that provides the viewer with multiple viewpoints.
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Portrait: Matthew Bradley, courtesy of WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery
Artworks: Mike Taylor, courtesy of Chris Soal and WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery