Overwhelming. Awesome. World class. These are all words that describe South African sculptor Dylan Lewis’s sculpture garden on Mulberry Farm in Paradyskloof (a very apt name, that!), Stellenbosch. The artist started the garden himself way back in 2009, using an excavator to dig and pile up earth and mould it into dips and mounds and hills. And in spite of an artist-style impatience to see it perfected immediately, just the way he envisioned it, it took years of collaboration with indigenous plant and fynbos experts to get it to how it looks today. Wild and unruly. Tame and controlled. Colourful and bright. Shaded and secretive. And then there are those sensational sculptures.
The garden – all of 7 hectares – sinks and climbs at the foot of the spiky, cracked, grey Stellenbosch mountains. It has a 2-kilometre paved walkway that passes a carefully-thought-out-and-placed series of sculptures – some tiny, some giant. Over 66 of them. The brochure suggests that the walk takes 45 minutes. We took almost two hours in blazing 36-degree heat. The staff does, though, provide charming Eastern-style paper umbrellas and trays of iced cucumber and mint-infused water. An inspired offering.
Lewis works in bronze (from clay sculptures which are then cast using a “lost wax” method) as well as acrylic plaster embedded with iron or black oxide. Through the raw sensuality and visceral primal emotion expressed in his animal torsos and his tortured half-human half-beast figures, it’s fascinating to follow his own, very personal, life transitions. As an emotional release from a restrictive fundamentalist religious upbringing, Lewis achieved this through the animalistic raw power of his cats, later progressing to horned and masked male figures, as well as “shamanic” female figures (with wings and claws). Our greatest strengths, Lewis is saying, stem from the broken and painful parts in our past – which contradicts the fundamentalist belief that only in perfection can we be strong and accomplished. In his twisted and tormented torsos is an explosive male energy that expresses the internal struggle between wildness and tameness in the self.
Garden open Tuesday to Saturday, by appointment only.
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