Who would have thought there were tigers lurking in Hout Bay?

In amongst the warehouses of Mariners Wharf, surrounded by chunks of picture stone, granite, rose quartz, sodalite and ironstone, and with an all pervading smell of oily fish, you will find Robin and his tigers. This is a stone carver extraordinaire who brings an amazing sense of movement and reality to his work. His current project of life-size tigers creeping through the undergrowth is his biggest challenge to date.

I was first introduced to Robin Kutinyu in February this year, when one tiger was just “born”, and the other still a solid block of 1 x 1 x 2 m of pale orange granite from Namibia. Each block weighed 7 tons. Now four months later both tigers are fully formed, weigh just over 2½ tons each, and the polishing is about to start. The workshop is supervised by an imperious 80 cm high sodalite eagle and black marble heads of the Big Five, while the entrance is guarded by a white marble lion, and a rearing leopard in Vioolsdrift picture stone.

Robin has 30 years of experience, having started carving at the age of seven, following in the footsteps of his father who was an acclaimed artist who painted in oils and carved rhinos out of stone in Mazoe, Zimbabwe. He remembers travelling all over Zimbabwe searching for different types of serpentine stone to use for their work, and sold his own collection of birds and turtles when only 10 years old. He has always preferred realistic as opposed to stylized sculptures, and spent his teenage years absorbed in the study of wild animals, birds and the human form he likes to portray.

He left his home country as a young man and first found work in Franschhoek with a local artist, before moving to Somerset West where he became apprenticed to the then company “Rock of Ages”, working primarily on granites for gravestones, but also later helping their stone carver with fireplace surrounds, or watching Thomas make his giant spheres. It was here that he gained experience working with really hard stones, which he much prefers. Other mediums he has worked in include wood, wax, metal and even ice. He once carved a full-size pink flamingo out of rose quartz complete with elegantly bent neck. For visual reference he takes or researches photographs of his subjects, referring to them constantly to ensure the correct proportions and realistic attitudes.  

Stone carving is very hard, dusty and wet work, especially with projects of this size. Robin starts his large projects with a big angle grinder carrying an 8” diamond-edged blade to rough out the work and remove the bulk of what is not needed, all the while marking lines on the stone with a wax crayon to demarcate the next area needing work, or else needing to be left alone. (Once stone has been removed from a carving there is no getting it back again.) To undercut the body around the legs, he uses different sizes of diamond edged cores, followed by a smaller angle grinder and diamond cutting discs to remove the waste. Large diamond coated burrs on a die grinder help with the finer detail work. From a safety aspect, a full outfit of professional dust mask, ear muffs and goggles is worn, and especially designed water feeds protect the electrical wires and connections of his machinery .  

Robin has had his artwork exhibited in Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Kenya, the USA and South Africa. We wish him every success with his current project, and very much look forward to seeing the next one.

Jo Wicht