'Every block of stone has a statue inside it.
It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.''
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1959. I grew up in South Africa and then Europe (Holland and Switzerland) before coming back to South Africa to complete my schooling and going to Polytech to study Quantity Surveying.
I have worked in South Africa, Lesotho and New Zealand.
I returned to South Africa from New Zealand in 2002 and moved to Cape Town to live, where I caught up with an old friend – Donald Grieg – who had a studio and was sculpting wild life. He invited me to come to his studio once a fortnight to do an art evening and it all started from there.
Through our art evenings I was introduced to a bronze sculpting course where I learnt all about the ‘lost wax’ process. It is here that I became convinced that I wanted sculpting to be more than a past time.
I opened a studio in Cape Town shortly after this where I would spend my spare time developing my art.
I am now 100% involved in my art and I have a new studio at the foundry where I cast all my work. It is perfectly situated in the new art precinct down at the port in Cape Town opposite the new Mocca (Modern art museum).
My inspiration is in a continual process of flux and evolution which allows me the freedom to explore new ideas all the time. My focus has been people and trying to interpret them. I want people to see my work through their own eyes and interpret it the way it resonates with them.
My latest collection was produced under the theme of “Broken People” and has been shown in numerous galleries in South Africa as well as galleries in the UK and France. I have had 2 exhibitions in Cape Town and 1 in Geneva as well. My work has been bought by private collectors worldwide.
My new work is a work in progress. The theme for this collection is “Sensual Woman”. I love the grace the sensuality and the comfort of woman and I am hugely excited right now about the evolution of this collection.
Welcome to my world I hope you enjoy my sculptures.
Interview with Dale Hellmann
Question: Were you always interested in art and at what stage did you realise that this is what you wanted to pursue in your life?
Dale: Actually It wasn’t something that I had considered I would be any good at. It was only after getting back to South Africa and getting involved with Donald Greig’s art evenings that I started to consider the possibility.
Question: When you were young your family lived in Europe. Did this have an influence on who you are today?
Dale: Yes definitely. My family lived in Holland and Switzerland for 8 years from when I was 8 years old to 16 years old. Those were influential years in my life. The history of Western Europe that I was taken to, all the museums, Cathedral’s, war monuments, ancient ruins, these places and their history all had a definitive influence on who I am as a person. That sense of cultures and diversity developed over millennia you just simply don’t experience that in South Africa in the same way.
Question: How were you influenced by television, people, shows, travel etc?
Dale: Wow! Let me think about this for a moment….. for a start there was no TV in South Africa in the 60’s and early 70’s and we were very heavily censored. TV only launch in South Africa in about 1975 (and that was very limited at the time). But there was TV in Europe so I saw the Apollo launches and the landings on the moon. I got to travel Europe on holiday with my family and saw the different cultures, and people, and food, and costumes, and architecture. These things for me were my norms. South Africa when I went back on holiday to see family was always exotic and wild and different. The diversities were enormous as was the politics at the time.
Your family then moved back to South Africa, where you completed your schooling and then you went to Polytech to study Quantity Surveying (construction). Over the next 17 years you lived and worked in South Africa with a brief stint in Lesotho too before you immigrated to New Zealand with your young family in 1992?
Yes that’s correct: I moved to New Zealand at that time because I had 2 young daughters and the uncertainty and volatility of Southern African politics, I did not believe, was a nice place to bring up my daughters. I was looking for stability and a sense of basic respect for others (similar to what I had learnt in Europe as a child), to now bring up my Children. I didn’t want them thinking that the enormous diversity and emotions of South African politics was healthy and or normal.
You also lived in New Zealand for 10 years before moving back to South Africa. How did this experience influence you and why did you come back?
I choose New Zealand as I thought that the culture would be similar to South Africa as we are both rugby mad countries. Well that is where the similarities stop. While my children have all grown up there I never was able to identify with their culture and always felt like a fish out of water. What I did learn from my time there was I am and always will be rooted in my South African heritage. My sense of being is distinctly African. I think that the freedom of emotion and expression that we experience in South Africa is unique. It is raw and brash and unrefined. It is uncluttered by rules and regulations to the same extent that Europe, Australia and New Zealand are. It is the lack of conformity to fit into others stereo types that makes South Africa such a wonderful and unpredictable place. It is this unpredictability that drew me back. I missed it. I missed the warmth and the passion of its people and its way of life.
Question: Who and how were you inspired to your career in sculpture?
Dale: It all started on my return to South Africa in 1992 and more specifically to Cape Town. When I came back to Cape Town, I caught up with an old friends (Donald Grieg), who had a studio at home and was sculpting wild life. He invited me to come a join him and friends once a fortnight to do art evenings in his studio. On my first evening he gave me some wax and told me to choose a small sculpture from his already significant collection and copy it. Over the next 2 art evening at his studio I made my own interpretation of a small hippopotamus. The whole experience I loved. Unbeknown to me Donald went and had my little piece cast in bronze and presented it to me a few weeks later. During this time Donald let me know that the Foundry where he cast most of his work was starting a new art course in Bronze sculptures. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and over the next 6 months I was taken through the entire process of creating and then casting a work of my own creation. (I did a study of my Dog Coco (a Sharpie)) which was the catalyst to my career. I am still today very proud of that piece. It gave me my artistic belief in myself.
Question: Your sculpting style is different. How would you describe it and where did you find your initial inspiration?
Dale: In South Africa we have such a diverse collection of exceptionally talented wild-life sculptors. I decided that I wanted to take my sculpture to a place that was different. I wanted to find my own niche and animals / wildlife wasn’t were I wanted to go (Coco was for love).
To describe my style….. well it has developed into what I would call a “naïve cubism”, but if someone wants to define my work and categorise it please go ahead. I feel that my work is evolving
Question: What is it about the human form that you find so rewarding?
Dale: The courage in adversity, the happiness in love, the joy in achievement, the ecstasy of being. All these things are places we as people go, and all are sentiments, feelings we can identify with in our own way.
Question: What or who were some of your early Inspirations?
Dale: My initial inspiration came from the concept of what I call “broken people”. Something I believe we all are. Some people are more broken than others. What drives each and every person to make their choices and to do the things that they do? These things come to define each and every one of us as individuals?
Question: Has there ever been an Image or picture that you have been inspired to sculpt?
Dale: Often that is where my initial inspiration comes from. My Marilyn is a perfect example of this.
Question: What is some of the ways in which you have seen the Art Industry in South Africa change?
Dale: Artform and politics in South Africa have been intrinsically linked to one another over the years and our African heritage was for many years suppressed. This however has changed and our African-ness and its influence in our art is now emerging in all its amazing style and beauty.
Question: What would you suggest are some of the things a young artist should include in their portfolios?
Dale: I would never be so bold as to try and prescribe what another artist should or shouldn’t do. What is good for me is not good for the next artist. Our individualism and interpretation of life is unique to each of us and it is that which makes each artist and admirer of their work unique and personal.
Question: Have you already got a name for your new collection?
Dale: I’m working on that…… The ideas are all there, but it will evolve and define itself in the time to come.
Question: You have clients from all over the world. Does this inspire you?
Dale: Yes I think it does. By knowing that my client base is diverse it reassures me that the interpretation of my work is not stereotypical of any one culture but individually appealing to a large cross section of society as a whole.
Question: What is your favourite piece?
Dale: Each piece is a personal journey. Coco was a labour of love as it was a study of my dog. Broken Man was my 1st commercial piece and in some ways I still think it is one of my best, he resonates with me a lot. But when I think about it each piece means something else and has its own story. These stories will be told at my next exhibition in Lisbon next November (2018)