James Delaney is a contemporary artist, working in a variety of mediums, including print, charcoal, paint, photography and sculpture. Delaney works out of his studio at Victoria Yards, producing a multitude of artworks and sculptures for sale and exhibit. His work has been show in 50 group and solo exhibitions in South Africa alone. However, his most famous work can be seen free of charge at The Wilds Nature Reserve. Known as the "Owl Project", Delaney's quirky sculptures have helped bring massive regeneration to the once dilapidated Wilds. Curious to know more about the artist behind these sculptures, we sat down with Delaney for a quick chat about his 20 year career as an artist and how he believes ordinary people can make a difference in their communities.

What inspires you to create? Where do you draw inspiration from as an artist?

I'm a bit allergic to the term inspiration as it sounds like an aha moment. My thought process around creating work takes time – beginning with something I see, read or hear, and then it grows from there, often linking to other observations or thoughts. Sometimes quite disparate thoughts connect in my brain, and that triggers a creative process. I'm never short of ideas; the challenge for me is distilling the ideas down and choosing the appropriate medium to express them.

Would you say that your artistic style and craft has evolved over the last 20 years? If so, how?

The content matter has evolved enormously in that time, from literal observations of things around me – still lives, the sky – to concepts where I've combined observation with thought. I've also pulled different mediums into my practice. I used to be largely a painter, but now I also work in sculpture, lithography, linocut, silkscreen, charcoal, digital print and photography.

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The city of Johannesburg features quite often in your print and photography work. What sparked this interest in the city? 

I find the historic parts of the city endlessly fascinating, both in terms of their actual history and the way in which the built environment has been created by some groups of people and then inhabited or repurposed by others. Where my studio is, for example, was horse stables attached to a steam laundry in a dusty mining town which had quickly emerged from African plains. The neighbourhood was inhabited by immigrants from overseas seeking their fortune. Today, the houses, synagogues and churches are used by immigrants from all over the African continent, also seeking their fortunes. There are interesting intersections of religion, fashion, artisanal skills, architecture, food and more.

Your work also often amalgamates nature and wild animals with city landscapes. Are you making a statement about the human impact on the natural world? 

Yes.

So, do you feel that as an artist you have the ability to create awareness around climate change and other socio-political topics and advocate for change through your work?

Artists have an important role to play in raising awareness of issues around us and challenging conventional thinking. We're bombarded with social media information about problems in the world which in many ways overwhelms us and prevents us from thinking. Good art in my view, will engage the viewer sufficiently to trigger thought and questions – not necessarily provide answers. There's an old adage that all good art is political. When the viewer is challenged, then the art becomes political.

James Delaney

James Delaney at The Wilds. Photo sourced from The Friends of the Wilds on Facebook.

How did the regeneration project at The Wilds come about?

The Wilds is next to where I live, and it had been neglected for decades. I just slowly started fixing it up, and the improved natural environment and facilities attracted attention, and grew over the past 6 years to engage thousands of people as volunteers. It's a very special space, 40 acres of such natural beauty so close to downtown, my work there has given me great joy. It has also influenced my artistic process – I'd never made sculptures before, until faced with the challenge of  drawing people's attention to the natural landscape, and drawing them into the park, and realised art could be the tool I needed.

Do you have any other regeneration projects in the pipeline? 

I've been helping volunteers who are trying to improve other parks around the city and South Africa, applying lessons I learned at The Wilds.

Finally, can you give our readers some suggestions on how they can help rejuvenate the city and keep our parks and reserves in good condition?

I would say just start with something small, which gives you satisfaction – prune the trees, plant an aloe, do some weeding, pick up litter – every small thing helps, and it inspires others. A spirit of volunteering costs nothing and can change the world around us.

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For More Information

Visit www.delaney.co.za for more information. You can also follow James Delaney on Instagram to keep up to date with his latest artworks and projects.

Victoria Yards is the ultimate destination for art lovers, foodies and yogis. Located just on the outskirts of the inner city, this mixed-use precinct hosts weekly Sunday markets and the annual Night of 1000 Drawings exhibition. Their artist studios are home to some of Joburg's top artisans, designers and visual artists, including Ayanda Mabulu, Blessing Ngobeni, James Delaney and Roger Ballen. The restaurant offerings at Victoria Yards aren't to be ignored either, with Foakes Coffee, IMPI Brewery and the famous Fish & Chip Shop on site.

Level 3 Lockdown

During hard lockdown, Victoria Yards halted all events and temporarily shut their studios to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Now, as we move into advanced level 3 lockdown, this urban hub is welcoming back its most loyal patrons, as well as new visitors. While their weekly market and yoga sessions will still be on hold for the time being, you can now visit Victoria Yards to mull around their lush gardens, for a quick cup of coffee or to admire their artist's exquisite work. Here are some of the must-visit stores and restaurants open at Victoria Yards in level 3 lockdown:

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Retail

All retail stores will be open at Victoria Yards in level 3 lockdown. Come through to find a fantastic selection of home and decor goods, clothing, jewellery and bespoke accessories from their top traders.

Find the full list of Victoria Yards' retail tenants and artist studios here.

Victoria Yards Online Shop

Even if you're not quite ready to step out into the real world, you can still support your favourite local artisans and traders. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown, Victoria Yards debuted their VYBuy Online Shop. From handcrafted mugs to bespoke jewellery, artist prints, tea sets and notebooks, this online shop has a wide range of trinkets and treasures to collect. There's even a selection of nifty face masks to help you keep looking stylish while preventing the spread of the virus. New customers receive 20% off on their first purchase, so get shopping!

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Tap the photo to shop the Ndebele cushion covers Ali is holding. While we are not quite ready to open our #FirstSunday markets we would love to welcome everyone to visit Victoria Yards. Many of the artists and makers are back at work at the gardens look amazing! We have take away a pizza and beer at #impibrewery as well as coffee from @foakescoffeeroastery and great fish and chips from @thefishandchipshop_sa!

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Food

Takeaway food and beverages will be available from Victoria Yard's top eateries in level 3 lockdown. Come and stroll around the Yard's chic urban gardens while you nibble on some tasty treats. Some of their tenants are also offering ready-made meals to take home with you. Yummy and convenient, what more could you ask for?

Foakes Coffee Roaster and Bakery

The newly revamped Foakes Coffee Roaster and Bakery is open for takeaways on their premium coffees and delightful breads. They are open from 08:00 from Monday to Saturday, so be sure to stop by for an early morning treat on your adventures around Victoria Yards. Call them on 072 211 1281 to pre-order your baked goodies.

Food I Love You

Food I Love You is an experimental dining studio and catering venue. During lockdown they've been offering ready-made family style meals. These Sunday home feasts feed up to a family of four and are made with whole ingredients without sacrificing on bold flavour. WhatsApp your orders to 081 835 0115 before 10:00 on Saturday to enjoy a fabulous feast delivered straight to your home the next day. Follow Food I Love You on Instagram for weekly updates on their menu.

IMPI Brewery

Support local beer making by paying a visit to IMPI Brewery at Victoria Yards. Their Homestead Lager is the stuff of dreams after months of alcohol restrictions. Pick up a case or two of their craft brews on your rounds about the Yards. Unfortunately, IMPI Brewery cannot sell alcohol over weekends due to level 3 lockdown restrictions, however you can join them for a tasty wood-fired pizza on Sundays. So get yourself up off the couch, out of the house and into the lush sunshine of the Yards this weekend.

The Fish and Chip Shop 

Fish Friday anyone? If you've been missing the classic tastes of the Fish and Chip Shop at Victoria Yards, you're in luck, because they are now open for takeaways. Get yourself a generous helping of battered hake and salty chips to go or be sorry that you missed out. Call them on 060 713 0279 to place your order for collection.

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For More Information

Visit www.victoriayards.co.za for more information or follow Victoria Yards on social media to keep up to date with their offerings in lockdown:

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Details: 16 Viljoen Street, Lorentzville, Johannesburg | (Tel) 010 594 5210 | [email protected]

The Wilds is a 16 hectare nature reserve nestled on the border between Killarney and Upper Houghton. Opened to the public in the 1930s, this serene landscape of koppies, foot trails and natural waterfalls is a wonder to behold. However its reputation came under fire in the early 2000s as the park became heavily overgrown. Many runners, hikers and tourists kept a firm distance from the park, frightened by rumours of rampant crime. The fate of The Wilds seemed equal to many other inner city parks until one man stepped up to make a change. Artist James Delaney set out to clear out The Wilds, determined to bring this lush area back to life and to restore its reputation to its former glory.

Photo sourced from Friends of The Wilds on Facebook.

The Wilds revitalised 

Between 2013 to 2018, Delaney and a group of volunteers tirelessly worked to clean up the park. They removed tons of overgrown plant life in this time, opening up the foot trails and hiking paths to eager explorers. Delaney and his team have maintained the indigenous flora here too, celebrating its history and meaning as one of the city's best preserved nature parks. An array of indigenous plants and flowers bloom here year round, including the glorious red aloes that peak their heads over the koppies come wintertime.

When Johannesburg Consolodated Investment Company developed the suburb of Houghton in the 1920s, they left the area now known as The Wilds untouched. Then in 1936 the Empire Exhibition came to town in celebration of Johannesburg's jubilee. After the exhibition thousands of indigenous plants were donated to develop The Wilds as a park. Delaney believes that this spirit of public intervention is vital to keeping The Wilds thriving. He hosts monthly clean ups with community volunteers to keep the park in top condition. So far they've managed to clean up most of the overgrown western section of The Wilds. With their sights set on the eastern section next, Delaney and his volunteers show no signs of slowing down.

It is this spirit of community that led to the Delaney's Mandela Day Project at The Wilds. In July 2017, Delaney undertook a massive art project to bring back visitors to The Wilds. He had noticed that despite his years of dedication to cleaning up the park, people were still nervous to visit it. In response, he created 67 owl sculptures to be displayed around The Wilds. These owls were hung high in the forests of the reserve, acting as a draw card for tourists and local nature enthusiasts. But Delaney didn't stop there. He has continued the project, crafting an array of critters to decorate the park. On your next visit to the park see how many sculpted owls, bush babies, monkeys and buck you can spot on your walkabouts.

The Wilds

James Delaney and his dog Pablo pose with one of his sculptures at The Wilds. Photo sourced from Friends of The Wilds on Facebook.

Other attractions at The Wilds:

Level 3 lockdown restrictions

Under level 3 lockdown restrictions, The Wilds remains closed to the public. Follow Friends of The Wilds on Facebook to keep up to date with opening dates and Delaney's community clean up initiatives at the park.

For More Information

Visit www.jhbcityparks.com to find out more about The Wilds and Joburg's many other city parks.

The main entrance to the reserve is located on Houghton Drive.

Have you visited The Wilds? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!