THE CAPE PALAMPORE at bosjes

The 'Cape Palampore', (detail), by Lucie de Moyencourt and Michael Chandler, 2015

The 'Cape Palampore', (detail), by Lucie de Moyencourt and Michael Chandler, 2015

 

it began with a shard...

 

Once upon a time, towards the end of 2014, I received an email from designer Liam Mooney, asking me to pitch an idea on decorating a large wall with ceramic tiles. The wall was not yet built, but once completed, the wall would form the backdrop to a bistro on an old family farm located in the dramatic Breede River Valley. The brief indicated that the final mural should reference the history of the Cape as well as the fauna, flora and agricultural activities of the farm. The glazed, ceramic wall would join afew other new additions in the revamp of the historic farm, including an highly-Instgrammable chapel, chic accommodation and a garden with a biblical narrative. 


Other artists were asked to pitch on the idea too and one of them was my dear friend Lucie de Moyencourt. We both wanted to view the site in person and as it was a fair drive out of Cape Town, we decided to go together - any excuse to hang out with Lucie for a few hours in the beautiful country side!

Liam met us there to explain the vision of the farm and to show us around. Looking at the mounds of rubble, mountains of dirt and bizarre rows of palms trees back in 2014, you'd never guess how it would be forged into the beautiful space it is today. We were shown the foundations for where the wall would be built and grand plans of lawns, gardens and playgrounds were explained. While I was listening to all  of this I found a few porcelain shards in the dirt that had been dug up for the foundations. Call it divine intervention, but I had just found the seeds that would grow into the final work that would become 'The Cape Palampore'.



On the drive back I told Lucie that it would take a mortal half their life to hand-paint a mural of that size and I asked her if she would be open to doing it together. She replied saying that she was thinking just the same thought. And so I shared my idea of creating a 'Tree of Life', inspired by the textiles from India, with her. Before we had hit the tunnel on the way back to Cape Town we had decided that we would pitch the idea together. Fortune must've been smiling on us as we later would find out that we were successful. 

Palampores were textiles made in India in the 18th and 19th Centuries and were exported to Europe and other ports where Europeans had settled. They were status symbols - the Birken bags of their day - only the very wealthiest could afford them. These cotton cloths typically featured a tree sprouting forth from a rocky base and its branches were laden with fantastical blooms, lyrical foliage and occasionally small animals. The Tree of Life is a powerful symbol in many cultures, across many centuries and so it seemed a fitting subject for our mural. The tree was also a device that would allow us to reference the unique fauna and flora that is indigenous to the valley that the farm is nestled in.  Right from the start, the Tree idea just felt right. And once you know deep down that something is right - there's very little you can do to change it.

 

 

The tree was carefully planned out to achieve balance and harmony in a fairly strange shape with hatches and louvers getting in the way. Flowers and fruits of different sizes were positioned to create the balance we looked for and we kept a long list of all the animals and plants we wanted to include so that no one was left out. Everything was included for a reason. Below you'll find some fun facts about the mural and some tips on what to look out for when next you're out there looking up at the wall.


- Our tree grows from a rocky-base which mimics the silhouette of the mountains which overlooks the farm. The mountains were decorated with ceramic patterns typical of the types of porcelain which were being exported from Asia to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope.

- The mural has over 100 individual specimens of fauna and flora that are indigenous to the area.

- We also included some more contemporary motifs - Apple's logo, emojis &tc to capture the zeitgeist of our age.

- The 'Spirit of the Farm' is the serpentine, feathered element which wraps itself up and around the tree. We used this to break the heaviness of the tree as well as to create a device to lead the eye from the bottom to the top. The body of this element is filled with little cartouches which were painted by the children of the farm. We wanted them to feel like they were an important part of the future of the farm and that one day they would be proud to show their grandchildren their contribution to the mural.

- The chameleon is a copy of a watercolour study that Lady Anne Barnard made when she lived in the Cape in the late 18th Century.

- The hatch features plants and animals that change depending if they hatch is open or closed (day or night).

- The Gable of the farm features Pineapples - a symbol of hospitality. The pineapple that grows on the tree features gable-inspired scales.

- Lucie and I painted ourselves in the work as two birds. They can be seen with a pair of binoculars at the very top of the mural.

The Cape Palampore, Hand-Painted Ceramic Tiles, by Lucie de Moyencourt and Michael Chandler, 2015

The Cape Palampore, Hand-Painted Ceramic Tiles, by Lucie de Moyencourt and Michael Chandler, 2015

 

I cannot begin to tell you how much work goes into a project like this. Hours upon hours of research were invested into the wall - there were meetings in Stellenbosch, site meetings in the country side, scanners and printers, meetings with Botanists and 17th Century porcelain experts, local ceramic manufacturers and lots of time spent with Lucie armed with ink and paper. On top of this we had to organise a studio, painting schedules, packaging, professional photography, a workshop with children from the farm, installation as well as the creation of artwork for the restaurant to use on their whimsical children's menu. All in all it was a Herculean task - but one that was completely worth it. Ceramics cannot be melted, they do not rust or rot; they simply break down into smaller pieces of themselves. Our wall will outlive both of us. It will outlive the children on the farm who helped us paint it and the owners of the farm too. In two hundred years time people may gaze up to it and wonder what some of the creatures are, as they were last seen in 2074. More than just a record of what lived here in the early part of the 21st Century, the mural is a record of two good friends, who together with the help of others, created something special that will hopefully provide inspiration and joy for generations to come.

* Visit the Bosjes Website Here,

* See what else Liam Mooney has been up to Here

&

* Catch up with Lucie de Moyencourt Here.

 

Lucie de Moyencourt and myself during the installation of the mural, 2016

Lucie de Moyencourt and myself during the installation of the mural, 2016