The Gardner Mural, Cape Town
You can take the girl out of durban...
The Gardner family mural was my first private commission and can be found in a sheltered courtyard planted with tropical palms and banana trees. The client is an ex-Durban girl who wanted to add a touch of Natal nostalgia and old-world glamour to a newly-refurbished Cape Town home. With the help of Young & Touwen Architects the Gardner's were able to transform an uninspired, old house into a lively family home. The mural was commissioned to celebrate the new house, its new owners and the story of how they came to be a family.
The client wanted something that felt lush and tropical and which referenced the fabulous azulejo tile tradition of Portugal. Other than that, there wasn't too much in the way of instruction which sounds good on paper - but it can make a commission open-ended and rather challenging. I wasn't too sure how to approach this, so I took my cues from the immediate surroundings. I like to make my murals as site-specific, natural extensions of the spaces in which they rest and so that they can speak for themselves.
Once upon a time, before the Gardners had children, they lived up in the north where they courted one another. The young couple loved going on little getaways and one weekend they decided to go to a lodge on the edge of a very large and very thick forest. The forest was revered and respected by the locals who dared not go near it after dark; for the forest was filled with unspeakable dangers... And so you can imagine the fear that crept up in the pair of lovers as darkness began to descend upon them after they had got lost on an innocent day walk.
After walking in circles for hours in the cold, cold night, they sat down completely lost, huddling against one another as they waited for the dawn to come. But the morning was far off and wild animals began creeping up to observe the strange new creatures shivering in the cold heart of the woods. Terrified out of their wits, they spent the night listening to the sounds of the forest; not sure if they would see daylight again. Unknown to them, search parties had gone out to find them - but the lovers wouldn't be found until well after day-break. I think surviving an ordeal like that can make or break a relationship and sure enough - a year later, they returned to the exact spot where the search party had found them and there and then, they got engaged.
Fast forward a few years and the Gardners are happily living in Cape Town with three young daughters. The mural tells the family's personal story through symbolism and metaphors, namely:
- If you look at the tropical, dark forest in the background you can see many eyes returning your stare, while animals quietly sip from the river.
- You will also notice how the two rivers join together and form one large river - a metaphor for the young couple who would merge and become one in the forest.
- The mural is framed by two robust urns (an esoteric symbol for marriage) that are potted with lush Kwa-Zulu Natal palms.
- Each of these is supported by whimsical architectural elements that are associated with the Portuguese tile tradition.
- Classical acanthus leaves are re-imagined as bromeliads, a hoopoe bird perches upon the central cartouche and a fabulous Cape Rococo arch creates a cobalt portal which you could step into.
- Gardening tools rest against the one plinth, referencing both the family's name as well as the space in which the mural is installed.
- The three little girls helped me paint some of the flowers at the lowest section of the mural and they can be see again as little blossoms that rest between the two love birds in the upper left quarter of the mural.
- Just above the pair of birds one can see the profile of Mr Gardner who looks affectionately across at Mrs Gardner who returns his gaze.
- An owl perches below her - a symbol that only the once-lost lovers and myself are privy too. Afterall, what happens in the forest, stays in the forest.
To find out more about the architects behind this project visit their websites: