Meet South African Artist Chris Soal
Chris Soal is an award-winning, emerging artist living and practicing in Johannesburg. Soal is a self-described “bricoleur”, an artist that constructs and creates from a diverse range of available and unusual things. We recently caught up with him to find out about his perspective of purpose.
Purpose Pioneers: Tell us a little bit about what you do.
Chris Soal: I am an artist based in Johannesburg working predominately through sculpture and installation. My work uses unconventional found objects, such as toothpicks and bottle caps, in conjunction with concrete and other industrial materials. Through these materials I try to negotiate structural impacts on urban living and to reflect on ecological concerns, while considering the philosophical and psychological notion of the “self.”
My spatial approach to sculpture engages through a sensitivity to texture, light and form, expressed in an abstract minimalist language. While, conceptually, my works refer to the socio-political context of their making, highlighting the histories embedded in the found material, and utilising them in a way that challenges societal assumptions of value.
PP: What inspired you to start your career?
CS: I had numerous interests and inspirations growing up. My decision to study fine art was inspired by a gap-year I took after finishing high school to work in Surrey at a preparatory school as an assistant. This year was important for me as I travelled around Europe a lot. I think it wasn’t so much the art/architecture that I saw but rather an interaction with young professionals which changed my course. Instead of thinking of a career as a linear path, I met many successful young people who had studied one thing and found their niche as they walked their path. This led me to the conclusion that it didn’t matter so much what you studied but that you would find your way to where you were meant to be. I had prior interests in art and I thought that it would probably be the most difficult, enjoyable, and non-linear path I could start out on. I saw the path of the artist as freedom. And after returning back to South Africa to study, I wanted to see how far I could take it, and I think I’m still on that path.
PP: What advice would you give your 18-year old self?
CS: Inhabit every moment with as much presence as you can bring.
PP: What is your definition of Purpose?
CS: The driving force that enables you to override excuses, doubt and fear. It’s a resolution that gives a reason for action.
PP: What do you see as the cornerstone of YOUR purpose?
CS: My core beliefs. That life is worth living, celebrating and fighting for. That there is meaning to be found, and that I can be a part of encouraging someone else in this path.
PP: What has been the most pioneering / trailblazing moment in your career?
CS: Every moment I put a new work out into the world for the public to engage with. There’s nothing to hide behind in that moment. It’s the bride stripped bare in front of her bachelors (to reference Duchamp)
PP: What challenges are the youth of today facing? How can we fix this?
CS: The question of purpose that you posed earlier is a major one. The underlying structures that once supported existential meaning have been removed systematically from society over the last century and more (for better or worse), and yet no viable, communicable alternative has been provided to society at large. This leaves us in a state of limbo, with no definitive purpose to aim towards. I would encourage the youth to lean into this question personally, and not avoid it. Search for the answers that will give you purpose enough to live with intention.
PP: What specific skills do our next generation need to focus on and how do you think we can close that gap?
CS: I think in an age where almost every form of knowledge is accessible through the internet, the greatest asset or skill is focus. If our next generation can harness that ability to block out all the multiple distractions that present themselves, little will be out of reach. I think artists, designers and architects have a great opportunity here to create spaces that enable and allow for this.
PP: What values and principles are important to live by?
CS: This is territory where it’s difficult not to fall into cliché’s or redundancies, however treating others in the way in which you’d like to be treated is a good start. I think living from a centre of love and grace is the most we can strive for.
PP: How do you think people can live more meaningful and purpose-driven lives?
CS: There are many books of great length written on this and I can’t even begin to address it in such a short format. I don’t have a cheat code to this which can be summed up in a one-liner.
All I can recommend is to start with what is around you, the spaces and people that you can directly impact in the best way you can. It’s become a bit of an internet meme, but if you want to change the world, start by cleaning your room.
PP: Who is your role model and why?
CS: I have life, career, spiritual, and sporting role models, the list is too long to list here. My immediate community is full of individuals who have inspired and challenged me and I’m forever grateful for that. I’m also equally grateful for individuals from the past who were generous enough to share their knowledge and lives through books. Reading has always been a channel for me to reach real models that lifespans did not allow.
PP: What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
CS: A multifaceted one. But for starters, I’d like to inspire those around me through my art and life that nothing and no-one is insignificant, and that value resides in all things. Through my life I’d like to leave those who I engage with the better off for it. I’d like to build up and encourage as opposed to tear down.