Adam Birch is a Cape Town-based sculptor and arborist, whose fascination and experience with timber as a medium is multi-faceted. From the unique forms and wood grain of each tree, he carves functional pieces of sculpture, most often transforming the discarded forks of trees into sensuously curved seats. Born in 1976 near Johannesburg, Birch grew up on a large farm in the Cape Winelands, where his love of trees began as a child playing in its forests.
He graduated from the University of Stellenbosch in 2000 with a fine art degree majoring in applied graphics, but always dreamed of becoming a full-time sculptor. An apprenticeship as a tree climber led to his own tree surgery company and a ready supply of raw material. As he worked with the difficult, often dangerous, sections of trees that needed to be removed, he saw sculptural forms emerge and began to design and sculpt sculpture and furniture.
A passionate environmentalist, Birch cuts down only alien tree species and uses indigenous wood only from trees that have already fallen. Once a tree is felled, he takes a trunk-to-twig approach to utilising the timber, sawing it into planks, floor boards, structural beams and firewood until only the fork remains. This is the part of the tree that carpenters usually discard because the dense, twisted grain is difficult to cut. But in a tree’s anatomy, this juncture is a key point determining its stability; it holds a charged energy that he heightens by scooping out sections and further animating others. The natural shape of each piece informs the sculptural approach, and although the end result is refined and sophisticated, the essence of the individual tree is still present.
Birch held his first solo exhibition, Bifurcation, at Southern Guild in 2018, and the gallery has exhibited his work at international design fairs such as Design Miami and The Salon Art + Design in New York. He created more than 150 large-scale timber sculptures for Xigera Safari Lodge in the Okavango Delta. Carved from fallen trees on site, the collection of sensuously curved wishbone-shaped seats, pedestals, benches and side tables is the largest project the sculptor has worked on during his 20-year-long career.