Chris Röhm’s ability to capture the essence of people in his sculptures – where one can feel the emotion and almost hear the laughter of the subjects – has garnered him an international reputation and brought in commissions from all over the world. But for this White River artist, home is where his heart is, providing the joy that sustains him and his art.
Taking what is lifeless and stationary and transforming it into movement and emotion comes naturally, although not easily, to Chris. “Creating is always daunting at first – looking at a piece of clay, not knowing where to start or how it will end. But it’s a wonderful process and it’s quite thrilling to stand back and see what has emerged.”
Although he has always harboured a creative spirit and a talent for working with his hands, it was by chance that Chris started sculpting. “After my gap year I returned from Europe and approached Michael Canadas at The Loop Art Foundry at Casterbridge in White River for a job. I quickly developed a real love of the whole process of sculpting and casting and started working on my own pieces.”
He says playing with clay has always been a fascination because of the physical nature of it. “I get so much satisfaction from sitting and figuring something out. When you look again the process has taken over and you don’t even know how you got to a certain point – it’s like going into a trance. Somehow that piece of clay in front of you becomes something else.”
As a central theme to his work, his family is the inspiration behind his art. “Life is so short, I want nothing more than to be able to wake up in the morning and spend my time earning an income around my family, which in turn will allow them to do the things that they love. I don’t watch rugby or play golf – the best way for me to spend my downtime is at home, crafting things with my son, Ethan, or going for a drive in the Kruger with them. That is what brings me joy.”
This is evident in his work as animals and children emerge from most pieces of clay. One of his most poignant pieces, titled “Say goodbye, butterfly”, came to him in a dream.
“I always keep a notebook next to my bed as I’ll often wake up in the middle of the night with a vision of something that needs to be sculpted. I quickly scribble it down and get to work the next morning.
“One evening I saw a whole pile of rhino horns and I was leading my daughter, Alex, whom I often call my butterfly, to show her what would happen if we did nothing about rhino poaching. It’s about our generation taking the next generation to say goodbye to something as precious as rhinos, because there would be none left if we did nothing. And if we are not careful rhinos will not be the only animal we are saying goodbye to.”
In tackling such emotive issues, Chris explains that while everyone acts on their emotions – either by complaining around a braai or on social media – his outlet is sculpting. “When the rhino poaching issue exploded I needed to do something to find an outlet for the frustration I was feeling, so rhino horn and elephant tusks have shown up in a lot of my work.”
But joy and laughter feature equally in his portfolio and it is the recent work commissioned by an elated father that truly shows Chris’ talent for transferring emotion to bronze. A little girl standing in the rain, arms outstretched and face turned up to catch the droplets on her tongue, was an image invoking so much joy in a proud father, it had to be preserved. The result is a bronze statue that now stands under a water feature in the family’s garden, bringing a smile every time you see her jubilant face.
Chris notes that capturing someone’s essence in bronze is challenging. “You always doubt your ability when you start, but it’s important just to get started.”
Perseverance and taking pride in whatever project taken on in life are principles that were instilled in him by his father, and he in turn strives to nurture this same conviction in his children. “If you are going to start something, finish it and make sure you do it properly.”
Although his full-time work in the construction trade is a different form of creativity, the sculpting allows him to connect with people and create what will become heirloom pieces. “The greatest satisfaction is bringing a client’s vision to life. Seeing that smile on someone’s face is all I need,” Chris modestly admits.
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Chris Röhm on 082-417-2258