“There is death in the pot” – a work of art created using a resin skull covered in a mosaic of tiny abalone-shell tiles – has seen Port Elizabeth sculptor and art conservationist Josua Strumpfer winning a prestigious Sasol New Signature merit award.
Strumpfer, who painstakingly cut 3 800 abalone tiles from shells he found along Port Elizabeth’s wild side beaches for the piece, said his work reflected “the magnitude of the poaching problem we have”, be it abalone, rhino or other creatures.
The skull, though typically associated with death, was also “material evidence of a life once lived” and was symbolic of man’s capacity for both good and evil, said the 28-year-old, who graduated with a fine art (sculpture) degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
“Often, we talk symbolically of the heart as the origin of our thoughts and emotions, but truly, the skull is the container of our thoughts – the starting point of all actions, good or bad … Why is that some people have a greater capacity for evil than others do? … I would probably do the same under certain conditions.”
Strumpfer, who last year won the PPC Cement Young Concrete Sculptor Awards (YCSA), said a talk he heard about artists being “visual communicators” had given him more perspective about the issues that concerned him – and had led to this latest winning work.
Strumpfer was one of five merit award winners in the Sasol competition, which was won by Elizabeth Jane Balcomb, with Adelheid Camilla von Maltitz named as runner-up.
When he is not creating his own works of art, the Summerstrand-based sculptor restores public art works in the city, working through the municipality and the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA).
He said surviving as an artist required hard work and self-discipline. “I’ve got no more romantic ideas about being an artist – it’s a lifestyle job, you are always working. But I still enjoy it – it’s a privilege to wake up and make art, so I don’t mind putting in the hours.”
His future goals include having his own solo exhibition and furthering his studies.