Sculpting a garden

Words: Catriona Ross

Dylan Lewis is widely recognised as one of the world’s foremost sculptors of the animal form, particularly of big cats. But over the past decade, he has carved out a new space in the form of the magnificent seven-hectare Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Stellenbosch, a project he considers his ‘largest sculpture to date’.

Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden South Africa
Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden PHOTO Elsa Young

The making of a garden rarely goes according to plan. For Dylan Lewis, his garden began serendipitously in 2009, when he hired an excavator to make a level play area for his children behind the family’s house on a farm in Paradyskloof. ‘When the earth-moving machine began work, I was mesmerised,’ he says. ‘It was like a giant sculpting tool, with the potential to transform the derelict tract of flat farmland we lived on into dynamic shapes and forms.’ Over the next two years, the artist shaped hills, valleys and water features, then set about planting and placing sculpture in relation to the surroundings.
     Today, over 60 pieces spanning his career have been grouped into distinct areas: his early bird pieces; big cats and African animals; and the human figures he has explored since 2005, including shamanic images, male and female torsos, and increasingly abstracted, large-scale works. Two kilometres of paths lead visitors through various ‘rooms’, including a meditative poplar grove, a pavilion, a hidden grotto, a succulent zone, a pepper tree grove of leopard bronzes, and a pink heather hill topped by a giant masculine figure.
     Botanically, the garden is focused on indigenous plants, particularly fynbos, incorporating many buchu species, and ericas, of which a large selection of unusual varieties has been sourced from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden South Africa
Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden PHOTO David Ross

     Born in Johannesburg in 1964, Lewis has held exhibitions in Paris, Sydney, Toronto, Houston and San Francisco, as well as numerous one-man exhibitions in London, where he is among the few living artists to have held solo auctions at Christie’s.
     The garden depicts not only his career progress but his inner evolution. Where once he expressed powerful feelings only through animal subject matter, the artist now produces honest and intimate human groupings. This shift reflects a healing within, he believes: ‘Now I’m no longer hiding behind the animal. I’m fully in the human realm.’
     Lewis’ human figures enact the range of emotions of which we are all capable without attaching to them labels such as good or bad, desirable or undesirable. ‘For me, the only way I can get to my own authenticity is to remove judgement,’ says the artist. The tension seen in many of his figures underscores a central theme: wilderness versus tameness. ‘I’m fascinated by the metaphor of nature and trying to control it, and our inner nature and our attempts to control that,’ says Lewis. ‘The garden is an attempt to make some meaning of the energies that afflict and guide me in life. It’s a reflection of my passion for sculpture and wilderness, and, more than anything else, a relentless search for an internal untamed land.’
     Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden tours and visits are by appointment only. For bookings and ticket sales, please contact info@dylanart.co.za or phone +27 (0) 21 880 0054.