One of South Africa’s most successful sculptors has taken his hand to garden making. The result is a breathtaking garden and expansive outdoor gallery of his monumental works in Stellenbosch.
The story begins in 2009, when South African artist Dylan Lewis hired an excavator to flatten an area around his house in Stellenbosch for his children to play on. Quite instinctively, Dylan began shaping the ground beyond the play area and creating pathways extending further and further into the grounds of his property. It was a spontaneous reaction to the landscape and had its origins in Dylan’s experience as a young boy of making paths through his grandmother’s garden. Eight years on, the result is a seven-hectare garden with a lily pond, grass-fringed walkways, sweeps of indigenous fynbos, streams and a central lake. The house is almost completely hidden and the surrounding Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountains and distant views of the sea complete the foundations of the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden. Once the essential backbone to the garden was in place, Dylan collaborated with designer Franchesca Watson on the ‘initial broad brushstrokes of the garden’ and with indigenous plant expert Fiona Powrie. Franchesca recalls arriving on site for the first time. ‘Dylan had created something very beautiful with his big machines. He had carved out lakes, ponds and streams, with carefully placed boulders and considered positions for art in the garden,’ she says.
Rocks found on site were placed in the Japanese-inspired entrance garden as a powerful reflection of the surrounding landscape. Bronze Cheetah Pair II at the far end
A winding gravel path alongside the lake in Dylan Lewis’s Stellenbosch garden is home to Male Torso IV, surrounded by indigenous Portulacaria afra and Cotyledon orbiculata. Buffalo Bull Pair and Monumental Male Torso I can also be seen
Male Trans-Figure XII Maquette, surrounded by a massed planting of restios, flanks the lily pond with a view over the majestic Stellenbosch Mountains
Dylan’s vision for the garden was for it to become progressively more naturalised the further it extended beyond the domestic buildings, to ultimately merge with the indigenous fynbos vegetation and mountains beyond. The sculpture, too, becomes increasingly wild the further one walks through the garden, moving from intimately observed bronze animal representations to rust-coloured monumental, fragmented and truncated animal/human forms.
‘I am fascinated by the tension between explosive movement and quiet balance’ – Dylan Lewis
Fynbos, the naturally occurring flora of the Western Cape, was ideal for achieving this vision. Not only would it help create a seamless transition from the garden into the surrounding landscape but, with a specialised root system allowing the plants to harvest nutrients in the most depleted of soils, it was also a practical choice for these conditions.
The part of the garden surrounding the buildings at the entrance is Japanese-influenced, with manicured planting. The plant shapes are rounded, looping back on themselves and reflective of the cycles of nature. The garden wrapping around this area sets up a magnificent tension between proximity and distance, masculine and feminine, civilisation and wilderness. In look and feel, the entrance courtyard alludes to the Japanese principles of nature distilled. ‘I am fascinated by the tension between explosive movement and quiet balance,’ says Dylan. There is nothing superfluous here: all elements have been consciously placed. Dylan’s process of garden making, like that of his sculpture, is intuitive. Clipped coleonema, Gymnosporia bachmannii, Diospyros whyteana and Buxus macowanii have been shaped into rounded mounds with a restraint that directs the focus onto the art.
Sculpture Torso III positioned in a copse of poplar trees on the mountain side of the central lake provides pause to reflect
Male Trans-Figure I rests on a carpet of Oscularia deltoides
Dylan’s vision for the garden was for it to become progressively more naturalised the further it extended beyond the buildings
Dylan describes the placement and shape of a rock in the entrance garden as an appropriate symbol, ‘It was found on site and is a perfect reflection of the landscape.’ It is also a powerful symbol of the prehistory contained within the natural world, and the concept of time and evolution. ‘The progression of my art has no clearly defined beginning or end,’ he explains. On the far side of the courtyard, a slab of raw marble with etched mandala motif is set into the floor surface, representing the Search for Ithaca, a story that embodies a physical and inner journey, with the conflicting emotions of struggle and surrender. As one meanders away from the entrance, the plant diversity is captivating. The hill below Dylan’s original studio is covered with agathosma, acmadenia, erica and pelargonium species, and turns shades of pink from late winter through spring. Watsonia species and brightly coloured spires of wachendorfia fringe the central lake and streams feeding the lily pond. Erica verticillata flowers a deep shade of pink, quite at home in this natural haven.
There is a profound sense of being in the moment in this garden, an awareness that the light and the season will change, as will the landscape, but the experience comes from being there right now. The sculptures, so evocatively positioned, have been captured by the artist in just that moment to allow us a hushed sighting into their spirit.
Visits to the sculpture garden are by appointment only. Contact +27 21 880 0054 or [email protected].
The garden becomes progressively wilder as one moves towards the outskirts. Here Monumental Striding Fragment I, surrounded by sedges, grey-leafed Stoebe plumosa and leucodendron species, reflects the shift
Photography Elsa Young