J apanese flower artist and botanical sculptor Azuma Makoto has been creating incredible sculptures using hundreds of thousands of flowers since 2002. He co-founded the floral atelier Jardins des Fleurs with the photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki and made headlines in 2014 when he launched a bonsai tree into space. As part of the Art of the Season, Sotheby's commissioned him to create a stunning ice flower sculpture that took pride of place at both the Collectors' Dinner and the Impressionist and Modern Art cocktail. We caught up with him to hear what inspires him and to find out how he created the piece for Sotheby's.
Sotheby’s: How long have you been making flower ice sculptures?
Azuma Makoto : I had an exhibition called Iced Flowers in Tokyo in January 2015 and it was the first time I make this type of ice sculpture with enclosed flowers in it. And I also did a collaboration with Dries Van Noten in September 2016 for his 2017 S/S collection runway in Paris.
S: Where did the inspiration first come from to put flowers in ice?
AM: I created an experimental work in 2007 called SHIKI2 using ice that had a Bonsai pine tree installed in it. Since then I have been thinking about what would happen if flowers were installed in ice and I was really curious about it. I’m always seeking to capture new ways of portraying the beauty in flowers/plants and to express it at an artistic level that no one have never seen before. "Iced Flowers” capture not only their beauty but also their “time” and moment.
S: Can you tell us a bit about the process?
AM: For the Sotheby’s flowers I went to the New Covent Garden flower market to purchase local flowers in the UK and then started to make the piece at the Ice factory. I put the "flower bouquet" into a small ”pool” and kept it in ice for a week.
S: What was the inspiration behind the pieces you produced for Sotheby’s?
AM: I wanted to create something new that’s different from my previous Iced Flowers pieces.
I talked with the team at Sotheby’s about the theme of the art pieces and I suggested creating something that had a “Garden” atmosphere, using both British and Japanese flowers mixed together. Very sensitive, sophisticated with positive colour variations that feel like the arrival of a brilliant summer time. This piece is to be used at the Collectors’ Dinner so I thought it would be nice to make joyful feelings.
S: How long did it take to produce the pieces?
AM: It took over a month for production. Since the factory has a limited number of the “pools” we couldn’t create them all at the same time so we did little by little. As a result, we could carefully work and concentrate on each of the details.
S: What has been the biggest project you have undertaken to date?
AM: I have done many types of works, installations, collaborations and exhibitions so I couldn’t choose one. But one of my well-known projects was Exobiotanica. I launched the flower bouquet and Bonsai piece up to the stratosphere in 2014 from the desert in Nevada. This was part of the “In Bloom” project, in which I create flower installations in environments where plants usually cannot survive.
S: What has the reaction been like to the pieces you create?
AM: Not only through this project but in all of my all art works, I always wish to bring people new aspects of flowers. Sometimes people say my work shows a darker side of what flower art pieces can be as I use not only blooming flowers but also decaying ones. I think that it is because I am always conscious of the concepts of “life” and “death”.
AM: Every flower and plant has its own cycle; bloom, wither, and then turn to manure for the next lives. Whichever moment you take from the process from birth to death, its expression is rich and beautiful, and I believe that it attracts people’s mind without fail. Life and death exist next to each other, and I think that is where the beauty comes from. I continue to confront flowers in order to capture the ultimate beauty.
S: What other projects do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
AM: We will have Exobiotanica2 and the Deep sea project in August. Exobiotanica2 is the same as before but this time we will launch even bigger flower sculptures up to the stratosphere from Nevada. We are also trying to bring flowers under the deep sea at the end of August, which is in Japan. We will install flowers in many types of environment and would like to capture the new possibilities and beauty.
We also created Botanical Animation Story of Flowers with London based illustrator Katie Scott and animator James Paulley, and it was developed for kids to show the lifecycle of flowers. We will bring this animation to Kew garden from September to October and it will be great to show it to so many people in UK. You can currently watch it on our YouTube channel and website. Also, we will publish our book Encyclopaedia of Flowers International Version at the end of 2017 or in spring 2018, with Thames and Hudson.