Profile: Rebecca Law on sculpting with flowers
Jan 27, 2017
You could say that horticulture is in artist Rebecca Louise Law’s roots. With a family tree of gardeners and artists spanning six generations, it seems only natural that Law would make her name using flowers as her primary medium in her work working as one of Britain’s leading installation artists. Bringing the outside in, Law creates immersive and engaging sensory experiences collaborating with world-renowned brands and institutions such as Hermès, Cartier and London’s Royal Opera House.Sara McAlpine explores the work of an unconventional artist to coincide with the unveiling of her hanging meadow installation in Eastland’s Beauty Garden.

While studying for a Bachelors degree in Fine Art at Newcastle University in the UK, Law explored our engagement with nature in two-dimensions, inspired by the works of Dutch Renaissance painters Bosschaert the Elder, and Balthasar van der Ast. With time, her expression outgrew the canvas, leading to the spectacular, site-specific floral sculptures she’s now known for.

Far from esoteric, Law’s work is fundamentally accessible as she invites the public to engage with her practice and her studio, a stone’s throw from London’s renowned horticultural hotspot, Columbia Road Market, is open to the public on Sundays. A solo exhibition, The Hated Flower (2014) poked the proverbial tongue at botanical ‘fashions’, with visitors in on the joke as well as the sculpture, as they were invited to lay beneath a candelabrum of Chrysanthemums and Carnations that celebrated the ‘déclassé’ fleurs. The piece, much like Law’s other aromatic, tumbling, studded and suspended artworks, was as much a comment on time, as well as taste and beauty.

A collaborative exploration of our engagement with the organic, Flora & Fauna (2015), parallels the suspension of nature’s beauty captured in the works of the Dutch Masters. It’s a notion that extends to the tonality of Law’s preferred blooms with her choice to use Rose, Larkspur, and Hydrangea – all flowers whose scent and intensity of colour is the longest-lasting. Therein lies the appeal of Law’s craft; her work is a captivating, multi-sensory investigation of the ephemeral, prompting introspection into today’s prevailing ideas of beauty. Dead pheasants, shells, and insects entangled in the efflorescent folds of preserved petals make what might seem macabre beautiful once more.

“her work is a captivating, multi-sensory investigation of the ephemeral, prompting introspection into today’s prevailing ideas of beauty”
Law rarely tampers with her material's original state, working with the flowers as nature intended, either fresh or dried. The art is in the arrangement, and Law's skilful manipulation of nature in its suspended state, quite literally as The Meadow, an inverted installation commissioned by the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015, highlights. Law cites the suspension, using copper wire, as allowing her to control the pace of decay, ameliorating the organic decomposition of her delicate flora. This, she says, is her biggest challenge, retaining the sculpture's beauty beyond the studio, and throughout the install process, which can take anything between a day and a full month.Law admits allowing her art to wither would be simple, and indeed, the beauty in her methods is lending permanence to the perishable beauty of the outdoors. It's no mean feat when handling over 10,000 individual stems as Law did when constructing the deeply allegorical, The Yellow Flower, in Japan in 2014. Steeped in symbolism, the grand conical sculpture referenced the yellow Chrysanthemum, the Imperial Seal of Japan worn by Japanese warriors in combat, and sought to celebrate the history of the country's culture. It's also testament to the level of skill it takes to craft such spectacular artworks. Each stalk was painstakingly strung onto 1,000 meters of copper wire, and presented the challenge of maintaining the vibrant colour of each stalk for several months.
Whether temporarily or over a long period, every preserved petal and frond is intended to dry within a space as part of a permanent sculpture. Having collected and dried flowers for the past 10 years, we are reminded by Law's inert, sweet-scented installations to savour the sensory experience of the everyday. It's a welcome invitation to stop and smell the roses in a fast-paced city, such as New York, where a portière of over 16,000 peonies, delphiniums, and hydrangeas hung in 2015. Her immersive art, relishing the slow passage of time, is celebratory of the organic and its delicacy in decay.