Power Of A Different Kind.

Artist Nic Bladen takes us on a journey through his career as a botanical sculptor and introduces his work on Ellerman House’s unique BMW 7 Series.

Published: April 2019
Video/Photos: Etched Space

Whether you’re a hiker, a horticulturist, or just someone who likes to picnic at your local botanical garden, you’ll know how fynbos – the distinctive flora of the Cape Floral Kingdom – combines extreme hardiness with feather-light delicacy. That characteristic is highlighted in the work of artist Nic Bladen, whose extraordinary botanical sculptures see plants from the dainty Disa graminifolia to the majestic Protea cynaroides (along with Aloe albiflora, Brunsvigia orientalis, Agapanthus africanus and many more in between) cast in bronze and sterling silver.

 

The artwork is breathtaking, drawing on the natural botanical beauty of the plants, and on Nic’s expert artistry. Some of the pieces look too delicate to touch. But, as Nic says, there’s strength behind those plants. “It’s all metal,” he says of his works. “You solder and weld and polish, but it all goes back to the plants. As ephemeral as they seem, they’re very hardy. They withstand the elements all their lives. That’s why they translate so easily into metal.”

 

Inspired by nature, Nic Bladen forages for his ‘subject’, fynbos.

Nic’s work is centred on casting entire plants – sometimes roots and all – into spectacular statues.

The iconic Protea cynaroides (or the king protea) is just one of the fynbos species recreated by Nic.

A visit to a bronze casting factory inspired Bladen’s career change from working in a dental lab to the type of casting he does today.

The extreme hardiness and feather-light delicacy of fynbos is captured in Nic's work.

 
“You solder and weld and polish, but it all goes back to the plants. As ephemeral as they seem, they’re very hardy. They withstand the elements all their lives”

 

Changing lanes

 

Nic’s journey as an artist took a few detours. Although he had trained as an artist, his career was originally as – of all things – a dental technician. “I did crown and bridge work, which is probably the nicest laboratory work you can do,” he says. “I would make dental substructures for porcelain crowns. Today everything is digitised, so there’s much less handiwork involved, but back then it was all about casting.”

 

Nic was still young – 26 years old – when he changed careers. “I visited a bronze casting foundry in Simon’s Town on the last day of my holiday as a dental technician,” he recalls. “A friend took me there by chance, and it took me about 30 seconds before I was asking the guy, ‘Can I work here?’ They were doing exactly what I was, but at a massive scale, so my transformation from dental technician to metal casting artist was very natural.”

 

Accidental inspiration

 

Nic had worked with plants and flowers as a student, “mucking around”, as he puts it, with leaves and lemon blossoms. After a few years of creating jewellery, he happened to find a little orchid on a mountain biking track. “I cast the whole thing,” he says, “and that’s when the penny dropped.” Ever since, his work has centred on casting entire plants – sometimes roots and all – into spectacular statues.

 

Flower power

 

Nic’s latest work sees him bringing his unique touch to a BMW 7 Series, personalised through the BMW Individual Manufaktur program, for guests at Cape Town’s exclusive Ellerman House luxury hotel and villa.

 

Having already created a spectacular Pinotage vine cast for the Champagne Gallery at Ellerman House, Nic was well qualified to take on the task of inlaying the vehicle’s five exterior panels with the leaves of about 30 local plant species. The result is what Nic calls “a field guide, emblazoned within the vehicle.”

 

“The idea was that guests could study it, and possibly recognise a few species on their travels,” he says. “The flowers don’t really translate into a flat specimen, but the leaves definitely do. And most plants are identified by their leaves anyway, so that should satisfy any botanist.”