Dylan Lewis: Artist gardens of the world

Dylan Lewis’ sculptures stand alongside the greats globally. His oeuvre has spanned decades and demonstrates a depth of technical skill that’s met by conceptual complexity. The Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden in Stellenbosch translates this work across mediums into a self-contained world of artistic expression.

While the notion of a garden dedicated to the display and exhibition of art isn’t uncommon, there are few that align with the true definition of an artist’s garden – where the garden and the works contained within it are created in harmony by the artist themselves, and where the entire composition – of land, work and the dynamic between them is unique to a particular artist’s vision. Here we must draw a distinction between pre-existing gardens that serve as a landscape in which works are placed – by one artist, or multiple artists – and a garden purposefully created as a work in itself. A conceptual world that reflects an artist’s internal life and world view.

“Within the context of art however, there are relatively few examples of gardens created as a personal and philosophical expression, given the number of artists operating around the world,” says Lewis. So, while most sculpture parks are an aggregate of many artists within a landscape, Lewis’ is a universe designed as an external expression of an internal vision.

There are others around the world of course, artists who have created worlds within a garden. Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculpture garden based on the esoteric tarot in Pescia Fiorentina opened in 1998, and is a labour of love honed over 20 years. Originally a painter, Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden is a long-held dream made manifest. The idea of creating a sculpture garden was first seeded when the artists, then 25, visited Antonio Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona. When Saint Phalle was given a 14-acre piece of land by the Caracciolo family some 20 years later, the work began. Made up of a psychedelic collection of figures from the Tarot’s Major Arcana, Saint Phalle’s garden is symbolic on various levels – the Tarot offers a language open to personal interpretation, not unlike an artwork itself.

Sant Phalle’s own career chronology too is represented – in journey-like fashion – throughout the garden, drawing parallels with Lewis’ in this respect, whose various thematic works show the passage of his artistic evolution over time.

Monet’s garden at Giverny also existed as an almost living biography. In part inspired by, and in part serving as subject matter for his work, the garden remains frozen in time in his masterpieces, but exists still as a living entity that continues to grow and evolve. Made up of a flower garden called Clos Normand – in front of the house – and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road, the garden’s two parts contrast and complement one another, not unlike the contrast evident in Lewis’ garden, where opposing forces and concepts exist in balance.

The water garden, inspired by the Japanese gardens immortalised in the prints he avidly collected, is full of asymmetries and curves and would provide Monet with inspiration for more than 20 years. In composing the garden, and then painting it repeatedly, he created the works twice.

The late UK-based Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta is an internationally acclaimed garden across seven acres of a wild moorland. With over 270 artworks, set within an intricate system divided into numerous different ‘landscapes’ within the garden, it’s a masterpiece of planning, layered with meaning. Individual poetic and sculptural elements, in wood, stone and metal, are sited in relation to carefully structured landscaping and planting. In this way, the garden in its entirety is the artwork.

This echoes Lewis’ on various levels – the sculptures placed in careful relation to landscaping while existing as fully realised works in isolation. Finlay’s intention for the garden to only be visited between June and September, when the trees and plants, all integral to the artwork, are in full leaf, demonstrates the artist’s desire for visitors to experience it as a unified whole, something visitors to the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden experience via a total immersion in the artist’s world.

Visits to the Dylan Lewis Studio and Sculpture Garden are by appointment only. To make a booking request visit https://www.dylanlewis.com/garden/visit-the-garden, call +27 (0)21 880 0054 or email reservations@dylanart.co.za