set in stone
An artist couple looked to their surrounds to create a sculptural home and studio
angus Taylor and Rina Stutzer are an absolute force in the South African art world. Not only are they both well-respected artists in their own right, but 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 fine artists. Angus has created some of the country’s most recognisable large sculptures, often combining materials such as bronze, steel and stone, although he works with more ephemeral materials such as rammed earth or packed thatching grass, too.
He is probably still associated foremost with his figural work – usually male figures – 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.
Although Rina 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 largescale public sculptural works, she is perhaps best known as a painter.
As a counterpoint to the fire and the noise and the primal energy at DSW, Angus and Rina’s studio at home represents a more private, reflective space where a sense of tranquillity 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 of Mathews & Associates Architects and built by Angus. It is almost a sculpture itself, clad in granite offcuts from one of the stonemasons Angus works with. In fact, Pieter has said that he drew inspiration from Angus’s sculptural works, incorporating materials that are bold, raw, and honest, so his plan and Angus’s interventions work together harmoniously.
The studio’s high doors – suspended from above and trundled aside on wheels cast from an original angus found in an antique shop – make it seem almost like a modern interpretation of a tower or even an ancient stone structure. In its tactility and earthiness, as rina 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 gives 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,’ says rina. ‘sometimes birds and bats fly through.’ she names cape robin-chats, 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 is audible from the trees surrounding the studio,’ she says. ‘Perhaps the large entrances allow nature as visitor into my mind, my ideas, and into my being. It’s as if the muse is visiting. I treasure it.’
currently, this is where angus and rina make maquettes and armatures, and where some of the smaller-scale preparation and finishing takes place. dotted around the studio are one-fifth scale models of a 5.5-metre 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. ‘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,’ she explains.
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.’ angus, too, works and reworks sculptures here.
given the setting of their house and studio, it’s not surprising angus and rina’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. a‘ round the studio, you have some of the oldest stone on earth,’ says angus.
There’s something he enjoys about the effect of contextualising human achievements in a geological timescale.
‘It’s humbling,’ he says. ‘It just takes a bit
[of the grandeur] out of it.’ 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 says. ‘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 he likes to include them in their raw state – collaborate with them rather than making them bow to his will as an artist.
on a shelf in the spare bedroom, there’s a small rendering of angus’s sculpture, Portrait
of a Plot House. It’s a portrait of the house he grew up in. ‘I often draw it or sculpt it from memory,’ he says. 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. This version is mounted on a stack of rocks – a representation of the complexities of human memory and experience with its foundations in the depths of geological time.
angus and rina’s house and studio seem to 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 birds, but of the pursuit of artistry and inspiration that takes place within the studio walls. Dionysus Sculpture Works dswartstudio.com
OPPOSITE PAGE AT THE ENTRANCE TO ANGUS TAYLOR AND RINA STUTZER’S HOUSE EAST OF PRETORIA, THE TOWER, WHICH HOUSES THE STUDIO, IS CLAD IN GRANITE OFFCUTS 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
from far left Angus And Rina in the doorway At the back of the studio with their beloved bouvier, bella; outside the studio, two figures from Angus’s Resistance as nurture series. they form part of A series of eight; in the living Room, Above An Antique balinese day bed, Body corporate by local Artist frikkie eksteen dominates the wall; the studio has high sliding doors And Rina says that birds And bats sometimes fly through As if it were An outdoor space. ‘i feel As if it brings nature into my space, into my mind.’