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.

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! 

Dine

Joburg is a wonder world of culinary experiences. If you are anything at all like us, you have been missing out on restaurant hopping across town. As soon as we are able to get out and explore again, these will be our top two Joburg dining picks:

Modena Italian Eatery

If there was ever any doubt that 4th Avenue in Parkhurst is one of Joburg's culinary centres, Modena Italian Eatery has proven critics wrong. This Italian-inspired eatery opened in February 2020, just before chaos erupted. Their menu features a delightful selection of traditional Italian dishes, as well as a few with a modern twist. We will most certainly be stopping by once life returns to relative normality to sample their Napolitana di Modena – a traditional tomato ragu served with bocconcini mozzarella over homemade pasta with a nice tall glass of wine.

L'atelier Bakery

Just before the national lockdown began, we were fortunate enough to attend the grand opening of L'atelier Bakery at the Trumpet Building on Keyes Avenue. This French-Belgian inspired patisserie wowed us with their array of pastries and savoury delights. We will surely be back once the lockdown has ended to sample some more of their tasty treats.

Latelier Bakery

L'atelier Bakery

Drink

Speaking of wine, have you run out of your favourite tipple? With liquor sales banned for the last two months, we have become a city of teetotalers. But, for those of you who will be headed straight to the nearest drinking hole once we have bid COVID-19 farewell, here are two of Jozi's best cocktail spots to welcome you back to the scene:

Saigon Suzy 

Seeing the back side of COVID-19 is going to call for a massive celebration. So, why not go all out with a night of delicious dim sum, cocktails and karaoke? With two venues in Joburg, Saigon Suzy is likely to see her loyal patrons return in their hordes (at a distance, of course) for an epic night out on the town. Don't miss out on all the fun!

Social Parkwood

The creator of Saigon Suzy is also the brainchild behind Social Parkwood. If it's fancy cocktails you want, it's fancy cocktails you'll get here. They also cater to other drink preferences, so no matter your poison, you should be pleased. Social's restaurant element isn't to be snubbed either, as they elegantly combine the bar and restaurant to give their patrons a great overall experience. What more could you need to get back into the Joburg party vibe?

Social Parkwood

Social Parkwood

Dance 

How about an evening of uninhibited dancing? While there have been a number of awesome live streaming events to keep you jiving throughout lockdown, there is nothing quite like a night out on the town in your dancing shoes. Here's where you can strap them on and get moving again!

Canteen 

If you've ever visited the Maboneng Precinct, you'll know that Canteen is the place to be. Not only is their menu generous in variety and flavour, but their rooftop salsa events are unrivaled. Whether you are a seasoned professional or complete amateur, this vibrant rooftop party is sure to get your toes tapping. Combined with the fantastic view of the inner city below, Canteen's Sunday salsa event is a definite must-attend once lockdown is over and we can safely leave our homes.

Carfax & And

From the rooftops to the underground, the Joburg party scene is as diverse as the people who bring it to life. If you're after something grungier than usual, visit Carfax & And, Newtown's most exciting secret dance club venues. And specialises in techno and drum and bass parties, so expect a raving party. Carfax boasts a similar vibe, but hosts more exclusive events including art exhibitions and private artist parties, so you'll have to keep your ear to the ground to get yourself a ticket in the door. Nevertheless, these venues are unlike any other in the city and are well worth a visit on your first night out on the town after lockdown.

top Jozi destinations

Stay Over

Being cooped up at home for months can cause serious cabin fever. If you can no longer stand the sight of your own couch, bed or kitchen cupboards, take a few days to recuperate at one of these two awesome Jozi hotels. One is a budget-friendly bakcpacker's haven, the other a world-class, architectural marvel. Whichever you choose, we are sure you will have a ball being away from home for awhile.

Once In Joburg

Once In Joburg is unofficially known as Joburg's only 'poshtel' - a perfect mish-mash of classy hotel and hostel situated right in the heart of Braamfontein. During the national lockdown period, Once In Joburg will be functioning as a safe harbour for health care workers as part of the Ubuntu Beds campaign. However, once things return to normal, we are sure that they will be ready to welcome in adventurous travellers. If you have always wanted to explore your city by night, this is the place to stay over. So, go on and tick those adventures off your bucket list. If lockdown has taught us anything, it's that life is meant to be lived to the fullest.

The Johannesburg Marriott Hotel Melrose Arch

The Johannesburg Marriott Hotel Melrose Arch and Marriott Executive Apartments Johannesburg Melrose Arch opened on Sunday, 1 March 2020. Boasting an impressive 306 rooms and modern facilities, this hotel is where consummate professionals and tourists alike can relax, rejuvenate and negotiate all at once. As global travel may be off the cards for a few months to come, book yourself into this luxury hotel for a weekend getaway, right in the heart of the city.

JohannesburgMarriottHotelMelrose_Exterior_Landscape

Explore

Joburg is undoubtedly an urban jungle. Get out into the fresh air once lockdown is over by visiting Joburg's top parks and nature reserves. Our top picks include a protected nature reserve hidden right in the heart of Houghton and the best art and sculpture park in Gauteng. So, get on those hiking books and go on an adventure!

The Wilds

The Wilds has undergone massive reconstruction and revitalisation in recent years. Home to some of Joburg's most unique indigenous plant species, this is the perfect destination to reintroduce yourself to the wild outdoors. Set against the Melville koppies, the park offers adventurers an array of winding paths and hills to explore. This is also a great spot to take a few wildlife snaps and post-lockdown selfies set against the Joburg skyline.

NIROX Sculpture Park

Art imitates life, doesn't it? The NIROX Sculpture Park reflects the dichotomy between man-made art and the natural world with perfect balance. Stroll their expansive sculpture gardens, artist studios and the park's natural wonders on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The on-site restaurant is famed for its generous Sunday afternoon lunches, so bring the whole family along for a post-lockdown celebration feast.

top jozi destinations

Sourced from the NIROX Foundation Facebook page

A Little Bit Of Culture 

Have you been enjoying tons of online theatre, music and visual art content while in lockdown? Unfortunately, there is nothing quite like the real thing. Treat yourself to a night out at the theatre or the cinema and help get the arts community back on its feet after lockdown.

The Market Theatre

The Market Theatre has stood as an icon of South African theatre since 1976. If you've never visited this historic theatre venue before, hop on over the M1 to Newtown as soon as lockdown ends. With its air of urban jazz culture and casual 'coolness', the Market Theatre bar is the ideal place to hang out before the show begins. Here you'll most likely bump into a few famous faces and possibly some new friends. So, put on your peddler's hat and earn yourself a good dose of theatre culture.

The Bioscope Independent Cinema 

Our final top Jozi destination to visit post-lockdown is The Bioscope Independent Cinema. Shortly before lockdown was implemented, The Bioscope made their big move out of the Maboneng Precinct. Their new home at 44 Stanley should be completed once we are all set free, so you can get back to enjoying independent cinema right away. Grab the popcorn and slushies because we are totally ready to go on a big screen adventure!

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Ready to get planning your post-lockdown adventures across the city? Check out these awesome experience packages you can buy now and enjoy later!

Zoo Lake

This park, located in the aptly named Parkview, has been a favourite among Joburg residents for many years now. And we can see why. The park boasts boat rides, a fountain, restaurant and a sports club and pub. Spend the afternoon paddling away in a boat watching the ducks go about their day. Or have a picnic under one of the shady trees for a getaway right in the city.

Contact details: 011 483 1017 | Cnr Jan Smuts Avenue and West World Street, Parkview

Golden Harvest

Based in Randburg, this 55 ha park is perfect for spending the day out with family, kids and the pooches. Spend the day fishing, braaing, picnicking or hiking. It has many dwindling paths as well as a pristine lake, making it the perfect location for a day out with the dogs. Nature lovers will love all the indigenous bushveld and resident water fowl.

Contact details: 011 712 6600 | First Avenue, Northgate

James & Ethel Gray Park 

Tucked away in Birdhaven, James & Ethel Gray Park is what remains of a bird park. As such, this park is home to many species of birds, and makes a great day out for birdwatchers. The park features grass, lawns, walking paths, ablution facilities and water bodies. Dogs will love running through the park, swimming in the streams and rolling around in the mud.

Contact details: 011 435 4727 | Atholl Oaklands Road, Abbotsford

parks

Horwood Farm

This big park in Edenvale is home to luscious green lawns, park benches under leafy trees, a kids play area and jungle gym and lovely walkways, all rounded off with safe, ample parking and clean bathrooms. The park also plays host to the Horwood Family Farm market once a month. Spend the day out in the serene surroundings enjoying yummy food and drink while the kids and dogs burn off extra energy.

Contact details: 011 999 3140 | 1 Homestead Road, Edenvale

The Wilds

The Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve is a park in Houghton, crowned with koppies and indigenous vegetation. The park features water falls, fountains and evergreen nature making for a leisurely respite from day to day life. The park also has many lovely finds such as the sundial, red aloes, shaded benches and amazing views. With stone paths and meandering walkways, this location makes the perfect destination for a hike or power walk.

Contact details: 011 643 2313 | Houghton Drive, Houghton

Kloofendal Nature Reserve

Kloofendal Nature Reserve is a 128 ha park in the middle of Bankenveld, Drakensberg and Savana ecosystems. This park offers both education and entertainment with the early gold mining remains, informative plaques and amphitheater. The reserve also has several species of flora and fauna, which can be viewed while hiking on one of the hiking trails. Followed by a relaxed picnic under one of the many lapas.

Contact details: 011 760 9143 | Galena Avenue, Kloofendal, Roodepoort

park

Visit Johannesburg City Parks to find more parks, nature reserves, flagship parks and parks for hire.

Note from Joburg.co.za
Please take care when attending any park in and around the city, there is always the risk of crime so we therefore advise that you go in a group. Some of these parks will do guided tours, contact them if you are interested in something along those lines.

Walkhaven

Walkhaven gets the number one spot because they really cater strongly to our four legged friends. With a dedicated pet friendly restaurant (The Walkhaven Kitchen), bar (The Dog Box) as well as a top notch kennel (Jurassic Bark Kennel), Walkhaven just can’t be beaten for a dog loving family’s day out of the house. The farm itself boasts 22 hectares of grassland and is a stone's throw from the Cradle of Humankind. A must for dog lovers!

Address: Plot 77, Zwartkop, Johannesburg
Open Hours: Seven days a week 08h00 to 18h00
Click here for more information. 

Marais Steyn Park

This park isn’t spectacular by a long shot but has a nice stretch of land for your dogs to exercise and caters to those of you living east of the city. There is a lot of bird life around a small wetland for those of you into a little bird watching. There is also a skating bowl, which happens to be one of Joburg’s best kept skateboarding secrets which the kids will enjoy.

Address: Corner Cork Avenue and Beech Avenue, Edenvale
Open hours: Open all day seven days a week

The Wilds

Arguably Joburg’s most beautiful park, The Wilds has been declared a National Monument and strangely sits in the dead centre of urban Johannesburg. This jaw dropping park is open for walking tours during the summer months and you can bring your dog provided it’s on a leash.

Address: Parking is available on the corner of Houghton Drive and St. Patricks, Houghton
Open Hours The park is open during business hours weekdays and weekends but the best way to visit the park is by organising a tour
Contact: 011 643 2313

Sandton Field and Study Centre

A huge fenced-off piece of land with the added bonus of security where dogs can run wild to their hearts content. Horses inhabit the land across from the park which always has the dogs inquisitive and enjoying themselves. This park is situated close to the Sandton CBD which makes it a nice one for the northern suburbs crowd. There is a café on the property called River Café – great atmosphere and lovely meals.

Address: Off Rivonia Road, Sandton
Open Hours: Call for more info
Contact: 011 783 2442

Faerie Glen Nature Reserve, Pretoria

This one is for our readers from Pretoria, but is also possibly one of the best places for a dog walk in Gauteng. The land is tidy and absolutely massive with bridges to cross streams and lots of walking tours to choose from. Dogs are required to be on a lead but with the size of the area you may get away with letting them off for a quick run.

Address: General Louis Botha Road, Faerie Glen, Pretoria
Open Hours: 06h00 to 18h00 all week
Contact: 012 348 1265/6

A few more ideas:

Gillooly's Farm - Gillooly's Farm is a big winner when it comes to walking your dogs (thanks to Larry in the comment section for reminding me). Read the comment below for his personal experience regarding this. 011 453 2207.

George Lea Park - In Hurlingham, they allow for dog walks.

Hugh Wyndham Park - In Dunkeld, they allow for dogs and is a great spot for picnicking etc.

Cheltondale Park - Near Norwood Mall, this park is popular with people in the area for dog walking. There is also a children’s play area.

Have you been here? Rate and review your experience below!

Remember that our “Top Picks” are not paid for and are compiled at the discretion of the journalist. We only write about what we love.