At the entrance to Angus Taylor and Rina Stutzer’s house east of Pretoria, in South Africa, the tower, which houses the studio, is clad in granite offcuts from a stonemason where Taylor gets some of the stone he uses in his sculptures. Taylor sees quarries as places of wonder. “I saw these offcuts, like crusts of bread,” he explains. The circular driveway was designed by Taylor and Stutzer’s friend, master landscaper Ivan Roux of Rekopane Landscapes. “Rina’s idea was to create a slate pattern within the circle,” says Taylor, adding that the slate shards create “almost a liquid state of swirling, to bring a bit of energy into it.” The grass blocks and tickey creeper (Ficus Pumila) corrected the “green balance” as he refers to it. Both sculptures are by Taylor. The deep rectangular-shaped funneled steel window boxes become sculptural elements in themselves; these were also made and installed by Taylor.
Angus Taylor and Rina Stutzer are an absolute force in the South African art world. Not only are they both well-respected artists, they also run one of the country’s most advanced sculpture studios and foundries, Dionysus Sculpture Works (DSW), which casts a good number of the country’s most respected South African fine artists, including Deborah Bell, Joni Brenner and Norman Catherine.
Taylor has created some of the country’s most recognizable large sculptures, often combining materials like bronze, steel and stone, although he works with more ephemeral materials such as rammed earth or packed thatching grass, too. Sometimes stacked stones in the form of reclining giants evoke some of man’s most ancient interactions with earth.
He is probably still associated foremost with his figural work – usually male figures, hard to define when it comes to age or race – that engage profoundly with the tension between permanence and the transitory nature of human life. At first glance, they might even appear to be made after quite a traditional idiom, but he has always subverted any notion of the monumental bronze statue by putting= them in the context of ancient and, beyond that, geological timescales embodied in particular varieties of carefully selected stone.The main entrance to the studio is a short walk across a wooden deck in front of the house, so that living space and work space are closely connected. The high doors and gurney, which can carry a ton, make it possible to deal with fairly large-scale works in the studio.
Although Stutzer also spends time at DSW in a role that involves broad creative input and implementing core changes on various projects, as well as work on her own large-scale public sculptural works, she is perhaps best known as a painter.
As a counterpoint to the fire and the noise and the heat and the primal energy at DSW, Taylor and Stutzer’s studio at home represents a more private, reflective space where a sense of tranquility and connection to nature allows ideas to germinate.
Their home studio is an extension of their house just outside Pretoria, designed for them by local architect Pieter Mathews (Mathews & Associates Architects) and built by Taylor. Their home is almost a sculpture itself, clad in granite offcuts from one of the stonemasons Taylor works with. In fact, Mathews has said that he drew inspiration from Taylor’s sculptural works, incorporating materials that are bold, raw and honest, so his plan – and Taylor’s interventions – work together harmoniously. Stutzer works on one-fifth scale models for a large commission, a 5.5m-tall faceted mirrorfinish stainless-steel sculpture, referencing the geographic shape of the African continent. The three-dimensional skeletal balsa frameworks that can be seen in the studio are explorations of form or drafts of the shape that the final sculpture will take. “Clay volumes are modeled accordingly to explore the volumetric construct,” explains Stutzer. “[Then] plaster of Paris forms are cast to be sanded down to diamond-cut planes and edges, and finally wax forms are cast, finished in the sequence before the stainless-steel version is cast.” She explains that she devised a laser cut stainless-steel plate version as an alternative exploration of the shape and to compare the integrity of welding finishes against casting finishes. “From the multiple processes we are enabled to engage and tweak the sculptural volume on a more in-depth level and gain integral knowledge from the material-feedback-loop,” Stutzer remarks.
The studio’s enormously high doors – suspended from above and trundled aside on wheels cast from an original that Taylor found in an antique shop – seem like a modern interpretation of a tower or even an ancient stone structure, like a cairn. In its tactility and earthiness, as Stutzer puts it, the granite “physically grounds or anchors the studio as the cornerstone of our life,” but at the same time its volume and openness give it an airy, open quality. With the doors wide open to the semi-indigenous garden and “veld” next door, natural light pours in through the skylights in the concrete roof slab.
“Its ambience changes constantly,” adds Stutzer. “Sometimes birds and bats fly through.” She names Cape robin-chats, speckled pigeons, Cape wagtails, house sparrows and Cape serotine bats among those that “brave it into the studio’s interior.”
“During and after dusk the duets of the spotted eagle-owl and often the murmur of bush babies are audible from the trees surrounding the studio,” she comments. “Perhaps the large entrances allow nature as a visitor into my mind, my ideas and into my being. It’s as if the muse is visiting. I treasure it.”
Currently, this studio is where Taylor and Stutz make maquettes and armatures, and where some of the smaller-scale preparation and finishing takes place (and, of course, painting). Dotted around the studio are one fifth scale models of a 5.5-meter-high faceted stainless-steel representation of Africa that Rina is working on for a large commission. It’s here that she’s honed its shape and polished its surfaces.
“I work down the plaster, then a mold is taken of that and cast in metal,” she explains. “There are many layers of cleaning up to get those crisp edges, and the flat facets, so that the structure and surfaces show the desired refinement.”View from garden into bedroom.The painting of the horse above the fireplace is by Johan Louw.
Although there are parts of the process that involved computer-aided design, all the models were first made by hand, which creates a rhythm and balance that would never have been possible with an algorithm alone. “This process incorporates or welcomes a degree of human imperfection compared to the sterility of computerized hyper perfection,” notes Stutzer.
She adds that her work usually involves “grime, patinas, ruin” and the transformative potential of decay, and that the shiny, geometric perfection of this work is something of a departure for her. “I looked at the idea of us looking at ourselves, and Africa being self-aware,” she explains. “That’s why I went specifically with mirror-finish stainless steel. That’s why it will fragment and scatter and multiply.”
Taylor works and reworks sculptures here, too. When we visit, it’s a stainless-steel sculpture, the body of which he’d already cast and finished. He had planned to carve the head from hematite but decided first to sculpt it from clay and cast it in plaster before carving the final version in rock. He points out that hematite is more or less 68% iron, “which is what the stainless steel is mainly made from, so there is a direct relation between the stone and the cast metal.”
But it’s in the space of this studio that its clay features are shaped by hand, gradually built up and scraped away before it’ll be cast, and the rough work done on the stone by his assistants before he settles down to do the finer work himself.
Given the setting of their house and studio east of Pretoria, it’s not surprising Taylor and Stutzer’s thoughts turn to the power and presence of earth: both the transitory and the seemingly permanent. It’s at the foot of the Bronberg, which is essentially the eastern part of the Magaliesberg mountain range. “Around the studio, you have some of the oldest stone on earth,” declares Taylor.
There’s something he enjoys about the effect of contextualizing human achievements in a geological timescale. “It’s humbling,” Taylor adds. “It just takes a bit [of the grandeur] out of it.”
The long table in the dining area was made by the late Kevin Roberts — a close friend and colleague of Taylor and Stutzer’s — for himself. “When you put down a wine glass you might lose it, because it’s a bit wonky,” quips Taylor, “but it’s Kevin’s table.” Stutzer adds: “He also made a lot of other objects in the house. He salvaged a lot of wooden elements whenever he could, then he would reshape them.” “Coelacanth,” a large linocut by Walter Oltmann, hangs above the end of the table. Next to it hangs a plate by Wellingtonbased ceramicists Anthony Harris and Gerhard Swart, founders of Ceramic Matters, and below it is a work by Martyn Schickerling, an artist who worked at Dionysus Sculpture Works, Taylor and Stutzer’s sculpture studio and foundry. The giraffe skull on the side table was cast in plaster of Paris by the Bronze Age team, Otto Du Plessis and Charles Haupt.
He is fond of pointing out that if earth’s existence were represented as a day, humans have only been around for the last 80 seconds or so before midnight. “Most of the time we weren’t here,” he remarks. “Some of these stones go back to six o’ clock in the morning.” And, he adds, you can pick them up in your hand and contemplate the time they represent. “It’s tangible.” That’s why Taylor likes to include them in their raw state – collaborate with them, rather than making them bow to his will as an artist.
“There’s a Buddhist term, “Tzu’jan,” which means the “is-ness” of things,” Taylor notes. “[The stone] is something already. If you work with that something, it’s a collaboration rather than domination. There’s a narrative already that you can build on.” He sees his work as a dialogue with the “is-ness” of his materials. They speak for themselves.
On a shelf in the spare bedroom, there’s a small rendering of Taylor’s sculpture, Portrait of a Plot House. It’s a portrait of the house he grew up in – just the features of the house as seen from the outside. “I often draw it or sculpt it from memory,” Taylor continues. The sculpture explores the ways in which the shapes and surface of a “building to which you have an emotional connection” can express something of the feelings associated with it, a bit like a portrait.In the living room, above an antique Balinese daybed, a large oil-on-canvas painting, “Body Corporate,” by local artist Frikkie Eksteen, dominates the wall. “He lectured at UP [University of Pretoria] alongside Angus and me,” says Stutzer. “We invested in that piece before we had an operational kitchen in the house because we wanted to live with it so much, and we saw it while it was being made.” Carvings on cupboard are by Phillip Rikhotso.Rina Stutzer’s office.
This version is mounted on a stack of rocks, including 3.6-billion-year-old verdite – a representation of the complexities of human memory and experience with its foundations in the depths of geological time. Less than an attempt to deflate something monumental – architecture might represent permanence, but it’s a humble little house – this one captures the poignance of the fleeting memory of a place, and perhaps how the deep time of stone might hold a little of that ephemeral meaning before, as Taylor concludes, “memory closes its doors.”
Taylor and Stutzer’s house and studio acknowledge that sense of things. It, too, seems like a respectful collaboration with nature – not just the ancient stones of the mountains nearby, or the fleeting appearances of bats and birds, but of the pursuit of artistry and inspiration taking place within the studio walls.
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