Andile Dyalvane’s meditations in clay : forms emerging from dreams, interrogations, and a deep reverence

TEXT BY OLIVIA BARRELL

For Cape Town-based ceramic artist Andile Dyalvane, creativity is a gift. A seed planted from a dream that transforms slowly through Dyalvane’s complex process of making. Dreaming, sketching, interrogating. His pieces are imbued with a profound reverence, for the earth in all its natural forms - smooth boulder, eroded soil, rocky cliff, stone crevice - captured in movement and spirit. Each work resonates with contemplation - on the natural environments in which Dyalvane finds himself, layering one on top of the other over time like layers of skin. Dyalvane takes from the past, from himself, and from the very sounds and movements around him to create three-dimensional forms, which more than anything else, are meditations in clay.

Andile Dyalvane has been creating ceramic works for nearly two decades. He is an artist, but he is also a storyteller, and each body of work has its own distinct narrative. With Dyalvane’s sculptural practice, there are stories within the story itself. For fear of writing a surface-level text in an attempt to condense such an expansive oeuvre, this article dives into a specific body of work - created in 2019 during Dyalvane’s residency at Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall (UK). It is a body of work that personally speaks to me and that represents a pinnacle in the artist’s career fusing expressive clay form with poetic narrative.

‘Umlisela Nomthinjana’ (Youth Collectively) | 2019 | glazed and painted charcoal clay (left)
‘Nyulu’ (Purify) | 2019 | glazed and painted charcoal clay (right)

“There has always been this sculptural longing,” offers Andile Dyalvane, who has been working full-time as a ceramic artist since the early 2000s after completing his National Diploma in Ceramic Design from Port Elizabeth Technikon. “When I went to university, the orientation was to make functional stuff. As time progressed, there was a call and a need - one learns what they want to express in life. Then the sculpted objects start sprouting,’’ says Dyalvane, whose ‘sculptural longing’ is deep-rooted - a calling as vivid as the visions he receives of the pieces themselves. This longing has led to the creation of bold clay pieces, predominantly in terracotta or stoneware, that have been hand-coiled, sprouting slowly over time through a process that is in equal parts meticulous and intuitively loose.

‘The Dancer’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay (left)
‘Cornish Wall’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay (right)

Evolution is fundamental to Dyalvane’s practice - a journey from dream to form through multiple stages. There is a long process that takes place before the making. “The ideas - they come through a split-second vision or visit of the piece as I would love to finish it,” explains the artist. “By sketching it, I'm trying to get it out of my system so it doesn't escape. When the sketches are done, I will do research on what the form is trying to communicate with the medium; where is the sprout of colour, image, or form - that is the start of the interrogation on what it is exactly that I am trying to execute.’’ Dyalvane’s pieces are deliberately born from contemplation and a deep part within the artist himself - the works seem to unfold. Narratives on what the artist observes around him - to a large extent, Dyalvane reflects on South African tradition, ritual and culture - but his works also tell stories about the natural world and about movement. 

‘Cornish Water Fall’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay (left)
‘Cornish Hedge’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay (right)

There is something open-ended about Dyalvane’s forms. They stand as interrogations. Each piece is entirely its own being, captured in motion, or perhaps still moving? Some seem to hold breathe, their forms bellowed - whilst others exhale, folding in on themselves. The artist wields the clay, imbuing it with energy. His vessels are a building-up of clay. But also, they encapsulate the earth cracked open. ‘’You can feel the skin of the untold thing pressing through the surface,” to quote Scottish writer Ali Smith when speaking about the simmering of untold stories within a story. More than vessels, they represent meditations in clay - a poetic visual discourse. 

‘Umwonyo’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay

‘St Ives Island’ | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay

This body of work, born out of Dyalvane’s time spent at Leach Pottery, embodies the artist’s obsession with earth. The pieces evoke the latter; muddied, fissured and smoothened. But the skin of other things presses too through the surface of the clay in his pieces: a feathered wing, the human body, reptilian skin - separate or pulled together. Dyalvane’s works feel alive and imbued with a deep sense of energy. Perhaps even a spirit - originating from both earth and dream. Set free by the artist. St Ives Island seems to encompass the full wrath of a storm, the glaze reminiscent of rain running off a window, washing the mud away. Earth, mud, and a deep oceanic blue. A house perched on the edge. Rock crevice and cliff. Dyalvane’s pieces emerge from a dream and through a long process, they turn into form. Perhaps the final forms actually embody the dreams - but no longer those of the artist himself but the viewer who contemplates the work in front of them. 

‘Embo’ (Origin) | 2019 | glazed stoneware clay