Power Of A Different Kind.

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

Published: February 2019
Video/Photos: Etched Space

Whether you’re a hiker, a botanist, or just someone who’s spent an afternoon picnicking on the lawns in Kirstenbosch Gardens, 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 breath-taking, 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.”


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.”

Inspired by nature, Nic Bladen forages for his “subject” fynbos.

Each sculpture is a work of art cast in bronze and sterling silver.

Nic’s work features extraordinary sculptures of fynbos and proteas.
Owner of Ellerman House, Paul Harris, commissioned Nic to create a sculpture of a grape vine in a bronze casting of South Africa’s signature varietal, Pinotage.

His work centres on casting entire plants – sometimes roots and all – into spectacular sculptures.

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 Individual 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 about the leaves of 30 local plant species. The result is what he 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.”