‘Where does animalkind end and humankind begin? What of the wild and the primitive within? In exploring these tantalising enigmas, Lewis searches wilderness, myth and ancient belief systems for inspiration, meaning and answers.’
As a child, I once found a sculpture lying in a forgotten corner of my father’s studio. Holding it in my small hands, I was struck by the tiny image’s powerful presence. Later, as an adult, I had a similar experience, marvelling at thumb-sized Hellenistic bronze figures in London’s British Museum. Most of the sculptures I create are large – sometimes very large – but I have never forgotten the memory of holding that very small sculpture in my hands…
For the past six years I have been working on a new exhibition entitled CHTHONIOS, which premiered in Cape Town at the Everard Read Gallery this past February. The plan was to exhibit these sculptures, some monumental in scale, in a series of large public exhibitions in South Africa and abroad. The Covid-19 crisis has radically changed the traditional exhibition landscape – at least for the time being – giving me the opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do: honour the memory in my father’s studio by distilling the essence of this exhibition into a series of tiny sculptures. As I began, compressing sometimes huge sculptural forms and ideas into smaller works, I found it necessary to reimagine the compositions and textures of each sculpture. One cannot simply enlarge or reduce an image without changes. Forms that make sense on a large scale don’t necessarily work when they are small, and vice versa.
Metamorphosis and change have been the only constant in my personal and creative life.
According to author Laurens van der Post, “Living truth, however valid, cannot be imprisoned in any particular expression of itself, but must move on as soon as a particular phase has been fulfilled”. He went on to say that, “concepts…are not terminals, but wayside camps, pitched at sunset and broken at dawn so that they can travel on again”. My sculpture has evolved through many changes over the years, from early bird images through to African animals, with a particular focus on the Big Cats for a decade. More recently the animal form became increasingly limiting to me, and my sculpture transitioned into the human figure as a carrier for emotions and ideas. Animal skull masked male shamanic figures explored the vital, dangerous, life-giving connection with all that is wild and untamed within.
The CHTHONIOS exhibition reflects my current thinking – or perhaps, more accurately, feeling – concretised into physical form. Previously isolated male and female masked shamanic figures have transitioned into a vital engagement between the masculine and feminine. The animal masks have disappeared, making way for the visceral expression of authentic animalistic emotion in writhing male and female bodies. As described by writer Tim Leibbrandt, “Perpetually pulled between agony and ecstasy, embracing, fighting, grieving and struggling, they channel both the freedom and burden of intimate connection”.
– Dylan Lewis
View the full online exhibition here.