In the Ellerman House Wine Gallery, a bronze casting of SA’s signature varietal, Pinotage, is one of several striking focal points. Dominating the feature wall next to the bar, the vine extends towards the light, a window to the indigenous gardens inspired by the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town.
The gardens were also the inspiration for the recently unveiled bespoke BMW 7 Series, a work of art commissioned by the Harris family, who own the boutique Bantry Bay mansion.
The Relais & Châteaux property has a prized indoor gallery that showcases SA art from the last two centuries. Contemporary art sculptures are strategically placed amid Mother Nature’s bounty — a riotous display of everything from pincushions, proteas and ericas to restios, buchus and strelitzias as well as rare species from the Cape Floral Kingdom.
“BMW has been heavily involved in the arts over the years, and it’s a pleasure to walk around Ellerman House and see all the wonderful art displayed,” says Tim Abbot, BMW CEO for SA and Sub Sahara.
“Ellerman House and BMW are totally aligned. Tim and I spoke, and basically the idea was to collaborate,” says Paul Harris. “Very generously, BMW said they would help us build this car, and sponsor a lot of aspects of it, to create something unique for Ellerman House. It’s a unique motor car, in a unique colour, a car that we are incredibly proud of.”
BMW’s first Art Car was a 3.0 CSL painted by American artist Alexander Calder. Built to race spec, it debuted at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1975. Since then, 18 Art Cars have been added to the collection. Andy Warhol, Esther Mahlangu and Jeff Koons are among the celebrated artists who have contributed their artistic talents to these mobile masterpieces. The man selected to design the BMW 7 Series for Ellerman House was Nic Bladen, known for his genius at creating once-off botanical sculptures such as the aforementioned grapevine.
“Over the years, individuals have made wonderful creations, but this one is absolutely standout. Everyone in Munich is talking about it this year,” says Abbot.
He was addressing a small group of guests, including Bladen, at the reveal of the 745E electric plugin hybrid at Ellerman House. The car has a 50km range on electric power, which is sufficient to transfer VIP guests from the airport. “It is very understated, but very premium. It oozes quality, oozes everything customers want from our perspective.”
Bladen’s concept for the car was “to somehow depict the landscape and geography of Ellerman House — its location near Table Mountain, built on granite, surrounded by fynbos. The interior and exterior colours of the car thus reference that very landscape, the ambers of the sandstone, the greys of the granite, the greens of the windblown fynbos, the blacks of the deep shadows of the mountain as well as the blacks of the stone pines that stand sentinel. I also wanted to highlight the diversity and abundance of the fynbos on the peninsula,” he says.
Bladen grew up with utilitarian vehicles, which fulfilled a function. “In a way, I had the same sort of idea with this vehicle, but it had to represent my artwork. I had to treat the vehicle as a sculpture.”
And so began the journey to adapt a luxury 7-series driving machine at factory level to incorporate Bladen’s artwork and concept. This took him from the mountains of Bantry Bay to the BMW factory in Munich, to museums and libraries, and to meetings with leather merchants, engineers, botanists and Colin Rock, a “very special” guitar maker and furniture designer based in Cape Town.
In Munich, Bladen and Harris chose the colouring, the interiors, and the leatherwork for the car. “It was very difficult to develop our own colour, and thickness and colour of leather. It was quite a negotiation, but we eventually got it. It was a real experience. I’m happy with the result,” says Bladen.
Abbot describes the earthy tone as “interesting” — an adjective that offers no comfort to his staff, because he is colour blind. However, he says when he saw it in situ, against the backdrop of Lion’s Head, he finally got it. “I could see it in terms of its importance. It’s absolutely outstanding.”
Finding a way to adapt Bladen’s 3D bronze castings of the plants for the 2D realm of the car interior was a challenge to say the least. “Colin and I worked together for the better part of a year, conceptualising and practising and experimenting until we knew what we were doing and could work on the actual panels,” says Bladen. “We had to shimmy these 3D pieces down to 2mm. We had to be clever. There’s a lot of information at the back (of the panels), like LED lights and things, where the castings had to fit. The solution? We basically hammered them flat.”
In an effort to show diversity in the fynbos found around Table Mountain, they decided to fit as much as possible on the panels. Each panel tells its own story. The front left door features a crassula, the left rear features big shrubs, the right rear showcases cassia species, while the front right displays the leaves of proteas that occur in the area.
With the initial brief to represent Table Mountain’s colours in and on the vehicle, the only way it makes sense is in the environment where the inspiration comes from. “If you look at the end product in a white cube, it would be too bright. But if you place it near the mountain, it blends in. It belongs there. I’m very happy,” says Bladen.
Adds Harris: “There are a lot of little features in it that are absolutely aligned to our respective brands, which are about elegance, discretion, understated luxury, beauty and, in the case of BMW, phenomenal performance.”