How Rebecca Louise Law turns decaying flowers into beautiful art
Death is a part of life: an uncomfortable aphorism if ever there was one.
However British artist Rebecca Louise Law has no qualms staring death in the face -- in fact, she makes it central to her work.
Known for vast installations of hanging cut flowers, Law has found admirers from gallery curators to fashion houses drawn to her decaying compositions.
She's hung her work at the Royal Academy in London and turned the Chelsea Flower show on its head with an upside down meadow. From Hermès boutiques to churches, there are few spaces Law's green fingers cannot reach.
The limitations of paint
The daughter of a gardener, Law is finding a different outlet for her love of nature. A classically trained artist, she started off painting flowers, abstract works inspired by the bold colors of Kandinsky and Rothko. But it wasn't enough, says Law.
"I felt frustrated by how two-dimensional the work looked," she recalls. "I desperately wanted to reflect nature in three dimensions."
She turned to flowers as a medium in 2003, describing them as "my paint."
"The complexity of flowers as a material fascinated me," Law says. "I think because they are ephemeral and a challenge, flowers have kept me on my toes. They're really difficult to work with."
In the years since, Law has developed her own techniques for preserving her works, even consulting with experts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
"Coming from painting and understanding oil and canvas, the way you're taught is for a work to last as long as possible," she explains. "I think I've tried really hard to create that with flowers."
Bound with copper wire, the flowers gradually decompose, shrink and bleach. Once dried, they're held together by their natural oils.
"They'll go through a bit of a dodgy stage," Law admits, "in that in-between stage between fresh and dry. The smell is not particularly great for maybe 48 hours, but then they come into their own, and [the work] becomes a different sculpture."
Some installations are permanent, such as 150,000 flower work "The Canopy" (2016) at the Eastland Shopping Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Others are dismantled, with some flowers encased in glass and kept by patrons.
Those that aren't kept are returned to Law for use in other works (she also mixes dried elements into her installations), and form part of her burgeoning archive.
"I'm quite strict now," she says. "Nothing is thrown away."
The beauty of decay
Entering its third week on display, "The Beauty of Decay" at the Chandran Gallery in San Francisco marks Law's first solo gallery exhibition in the United States.
Featuring 8,000 flowers, the piece has "a slight hippie vibe" says Law, utilizing the classic daisy shapes of gerberas.
"I wanted it to reflect what I feel like when I come to California: laid back but fun."
Law will always use cultivated flora from the surrounding area, explaining why dahlias, the official flower of San Francisco, feature heavily. By only using what's available, Law also gives an insight into the fads and trends of the flower industry.
"It always make me chuckle a little bit," she says. "It's my material, but it's dictated by what other people buy and what's available."
Big plans, colorful spaces
Up next is "Still Life: Sculpture and Prints" at Broadway Gallery in Letchworth Garden City in England.
Inspired by the Dutch Golden Age, "it's a little bit deeper and darker," Law says. "[It's] about life and death and the moment in between... It will have a lot more flowers in a much more intense, intimate space."
Law is also making plans for a permanent installation in Poland, and temporary exhibition in Denmark based on the sin of pride. Meanwhile her installation for NetJets at Art Basel will be transported and reconstructed for Art Basel Miami Beach in December.
(The dream, to fill the entire 35,520-square-foot Turbine Hall at London's Tate Modern, remains elusive.)
But while her work remains confined to man-made spaces, Law stresses that it's all grounded in nature.
"It's about having a space to appreciate the natural beauty we're given on this earth," she says. "I think that by preserving these flowers, pausing time on them, you get to really observe these natural beauties.
"It's a platform for showing what we already have."