BEN: Sculpting in Opal, 400mmx300mm, 40kg by Charles, Zimbabwean artist
I found Charles one morning next to the road at the intersection where he competed with the newspaper sellers and other roadside entrepreneurs for the motorist’s attention and hopefully their patronage.
What caught my eye was a beautiful carving he made of a stallion in a very dark stone that gleamed in the morning light. I got an even bigger gleam from his smile as I handed over the money and rushed across the intersection whilst the traffic light was still green.
In my office I studied the carving and found an honesty and realism in his work that could only have come from a lifelong interaction with animals, a keen sense of observation and a honing of his skills as a sculptor that was probably borne out of necessity, rather than an outflow of an artistic urge.
I started dreaming of a sculpting of Ben, my old faithful stud bull that signaled my first real attempts into stud breeding. Ben also has an honesty about him that probably comes from a deep understanding of the significance of his contribution to his breed and to our humble little stud.
I put Charles to the test. I gathered some photos. We had some urgent roadside meetings and Charles was officially commissioned.
A week went by, then two weeks. By the third week I thought that Charles might have opened shop somewhere else and abandoned the whole idea. Then one morning as I plodded through the Johannesburg rush hour traffic I looked up and there was Ben proudly commanding the entire street corner with his impressive bulk and solid stare.
Equally impressive was Charles fending off prospective buyers who all wanted a part of Ben.
I almost overturned the car as I swerved into a side street and rushed out to claim my sculpture. I felt like a proud dad as I walked up and Charles announcing me as the owner of his work.
Charles and I sat next to the road as he recounted the story of the making of Ben. The stone he used is two days’ walk from his home and he worked on the sculpture for a week at the quarry to get the weight down for him to be able to carry it back home. At his home in Zimbabwe he worked on it for another week, but left some stone on the finer areas like the head and horns to protect it during the travel back to South Africa. At the border he ‘detoured’, carrying the sculpting across to prevent paying import duties, a feat in itself, as Ben weighs in at a hefty 40kg’s in his final state. At an arbitrary street corner in Johannesburg Ben received his final touches where I found him to take him home.
I still saw Charles at the street corner a few times since then, his beaming smile always ready to greet me. What a fine man and an artist.
Go well Charles.