Seeking authenticity with Dylan Lewis in his sculpture garden

Seeking authenticity with Dylan Lewis in his sculpture garden

A reflection on Culture Connect’s Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden tour with Dylan Lewis, by Katya SP.

On my first day as a Culture Connect intern, I was given the opportunity to join Dylan’s tour of his garden.

Dylan shows us how he has sculpted his seven hectare garden starting in 2009. For one and a half years, he worked with a digger and its driver, which he describes became like an extension of his arm and hand. They lay the foundations for what is now a layered paradise (it is on Paradys Rd, in a Stellenbosch suburb called Paradyskloof). The garden is set against a mountain backdrop, which form an apt and beautiful backdrop to the garden – a reminder of wilderness, a central theme in Dylan’s work. He works intuitively from how speaks to us (the Culture Connect group) to how he sculpts, even on the huge scale of his garden. He, like many of us, is on a journey of finding authenticity.

Dylan begins the tour with a glint in his eye, noting that he will riff off his pieces slightly; he is modest from the start. He welcomes questions and answers with quiet eloquence and authority. The tour begins with focus on an ancient riverbed rock placed by the Old Studio, a reference to how the area was a riverbed during the last Ice Age. The round riverbed rock has convex shapes that attract, and are emulated by the shapes of the hedges and curving lawns.

As an artist working a piece of this magnitude, Dylan uses nature to paint deft and delicate brushstrokes of meaning and form. Yet he humbly claims to know nothing about plants. He initially got landscape Franchesca Watson, who then got fynbos expert, Fiona Powrie involved.

With the creation of the garden came an incorporation of water, which is, brimming with symbolism, and the garden has its own micro river system in place using a lake, ponds, streams and springs. Shapes and lines are mimicked from nature into art. As the garden grows and his art evolves, he changes gradually parts of the garden and its sculpture, most of which is his own work. Yet he doesn’t create work especially for the garden. Other artists works are also featured in the garden including pieces by Conrad Hicks (pictured below), Simon Max Bannister, Willem Boschoff, Astrid Dahl, Deborah Bell, Speelman Mahlangu, Maja Marx, and Angus Taylor.

As Dylan walks us around the garden he reveals small pieces of his soul that he puts into his work, from the monumental to the new miniatures. The mountains frame, the trees cover, the water reflects. Yet, the tour resonates because he doesn’t just talk about form in his work, rather life issues, such as being true to who we are, not living our lives through others. There are quotes from poets, ranging from Rumi to van der Post, discreetly and carefully placed throughout.

By the end of the tour, Dylan shows us what he’s working in now, the Vortex which he began in 2019 and worked on during the first Covid-19 lock down of 2020. A monumental square that places within, creviced shadows and human shapes, acknowledging the influence of Rodin’s Gates of Hell. He has bared his hands and heart in his work, and sensitively he lets us in to the understandings of his struggles.

“Just as I think I understand something a contrary point will come through that becomes the opposite. A search without resolution- but as is the garden… Constantly changing, evolving full of paradox and ambiguity.”

Dylan Lewis

I recommend booking in the next tour Culture Connect organizes for the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden. Due to the Stellenbosch heat it would be ideal to go in late summer, and will likely be on a Friday. Many people had taken a day off work and didn’t regret it. The office at the garden (Old Studio) is the final stop for the tour, from where the incredible Lynn Ascham works; she is in charge of sales with her amazing team Gabby Vugarellis and Marguerite Kirsten. If you’d like to visit the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden on your own, an appointment is necessary and you can get hold of Gabby, whose details are linked above. (You can also book tours through the team.)

24 November 2021