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Botanic Art: The Power of Petals

Updated: Jun 8

Petals have been an ongoing feature in my works, from my early days in art college, to now having a petal-filled studio with every shade and shape I can find. Until recently, I always put this fascination down to a relationship which was on a downward turn.

Floral art work with dried petals, leaves, grasses and butterfly on a gold background
Detail of Anteros

The story (in my mind) goes like this: At university, I was in a fairly stable and lengthy relationship with someone who was caring and kind and we got on well. But honestly, I just didn't have all the feelings that I felt I should have had. He tried to rectify the situation - he was, if you can imagine, even kinder and more caring and he brought me roses. The thing is, the flowers died. Instead of representing his love and dedication, for me they represented the slow withering and decay of our relationship. They epitomised all of my feelings as they dried up on my windowsill, the petals drying and dropping off and scattering on the ledge below. And in my desperation to feel something different, I transformed the petals into something new, something beautiful, something that could be a stand-in for the love that was absent. Here's the piece I made.

Art installation of suspended roses and rose petals
Compost Forest

I placed a small ball of thorns in the centre, titled the piece 'Compost Forest' and tellingly had only a small hesitation to cut down the installation at the end of my degree show.

But looking back over the years that preceded this piece, I realise that actually this fascination with petals dates back further than this. During my foundation degree - years prior to this ill-fated relationship - I spent months painting rose petals with words camouflaged within the compositions. I spent such meticulous attention capturing a teaspoon nestled into rose petals that I was advised to follow an illustration path instead of fine art (which would have proved disastrous once anyone realised I was only really interested in painting flowers and petals...).

Children of the Garden

So why then the fascination with flowers? I was talking recently with Helena Tibocha, a poet and composer who similarly draws on the language of flowers in her works - you can find her works here. She described her upbringing, with a mother who nurtured a garden and who taught her the names of the flowers. It was reminiscent of my own childhood. We spent a lot of time in the garden, and I recognised it as a restorative place for my mum in particular. It seemed to give her peace.

For myself, I had a wilder inclination, and I found my own peace in fields and meadows, spotting and chasing butterflies. But the idea of a plant as something to be tended is something that feels ingrained into my being, and sometimes tending to plants can feel like respite in the times when I find it difficult to tend to myself. Landscapes of plants and of flowers, they feel like home to me.

Impermanent Homes

There's something disorienting about finding your sense of home in a landscape that perpetually changes. Unlike our built homes, which represent to us continuity and stability, the home found in the plant is a place of flux, of impermanence, of continual growth and dying back.

I tried to make a life for myself in the 'built' structures of our culture. I stayed in my imperfect relationship, I got an office job, I made a home. I followed the path that was laid before me.

But in 2009 my dad got sick. He suffered a short battle with cancer which saw his body deteriorating and dying back before our eyes. The constant, stable, predictable life that I had built for myself somehow didn't fit the experience I was going through. Nothing seemed stable or predicable any more. The landscape was not as safe as I had thought and I was forced to comprehend a life of collapsed expectations. And these rigid structures which had kept me in one place for so long now seemed to offer only constraints and no security.

I found a little solace in art. I painted butterflies and insects in predictable patterns like Victorian entomology collections - still rigid and constrained, trying to regain a sense of order. But after a while I found myself called back to the wilds and felt compelled to revisit Compost Forest from the perspective of this new ruined landscape. Instead of thorns in the centre, this piece had butterflies twisting on the wind. This was a landscape of both uncertainty and possibility.

Though finding 'home' in a place of ambiguity and change might seem unwise and insecure, there's reassurance that what is lost in one season can be regained in another; that the dying back of one landscape can eventually lead to new growth. Change, dying back, regression - none of these things are catastrophic in the way they can be in a solid, permanent, inflexible home.

The flowers in my floral works have lived, grown, and died. My art works are created in the detritus of this process. I work with the dried petals of bygone flowers, cut back stems and severed branches. So to a large extent, my works are a coming-to-terms with the uncertainty of precarious environments and equally the recognition of possibilities that exist for recovery. My works are an exploration of the possibilities that exist within these liminal spaces.

Circular copper floral artwork with dried leaves and petals in a loose composition with moths
Tiger's Eye

Creating Floral Art

For me, the creation of floral artworks has always been about imagining a world that was more proliferated with floral landscapes - places that spoke to me about a different kind of safety - a place of restoration and nourishment even amongst fragility, unruliness and unpredictability. It has been about home-making and creating a different kind of space to exist.

I had a tutor at university who told me that people usually create from two impulses: to challenge something they see too much of in the world, or to create something where they see a deficit. So yes, I create floral artworks because I would love to see more flowers and beauty in the world. I truly see the proliferation of flowers in our landscapes as essential to our wellbeing and to that of our ecosystems.

But beyond that, I see a deficit of safe spaces for people to exist in landscapes that feel like home. Our homes have been built, designed, regimented by people who have a certain conception of what a safe space feels like. But for those of us with wilder spirits, where do we find home, and how do we locate safety?

Incidentally, I did eventually leave that doomed relationship, though it took me longer than it should have. I followed the precarious path of the artist, which brings me joy and anxiety in equal measure. I found love in a family who continue to surprise me. I have a home with solid walls, and I sometimes have to quash the impulse to tear them down. And the quest to fill my world with flowers continues.

I'm interested - where do you find safety? What feels like home to you? Please do pop me a message - I read them all.

Mixed media artwork with dried flowers, petals and leaves on a copper background with butterfly
Detail from Millefiori

You can find more of my floral art works here, and installations here. Sending love and safety, in whichever form that takes. X


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