My first article to be published in Italian! Interview of inspired flower artist Makoto Azuma. Out now with English translation (original) in the back.
Thank you L'Officiel Italia!!!
MAKOTO AZUMA _____
"It is my hope that people's relationship with flowers is now ready to develop further to include all elements of life." So speaks 38-year old Makoto Azuma, flower artist extraordinaire who is changing people's perceptions of plants around the world. Based in his native Japan, Azuma travels the world over sending bonsai trees and colourful bouquets into space, slow-freezing flowers, re-designing the iconic Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque bottle, and collaborating with brands ranging from Pierre Herme to Boucheron. But despite his impressive projects, his focus remains on the everyday, meditative process of conversing with flowers.
"I have a simple life. My days consist of home, work and the journey between, during which I walk my dog. So my inspirations come from the simplest of things. I like living quietly and being immersed in silent connection. My inspiration comes mostly from the conversation I have with each flower."
His visions, though, are anything but ordinary. In his strive to strip flowers from their historical status of 'decoration', and express the deep inner energy and beauty that pervades all stages of their life cycle, he is constantly in experiment with different media, technologies, aesthetics, and environments. His most recent travels have taken him to the Amazon, a terrain he has much enthusiasm for. "I spent three weeks deep in the Brazilian jungle, it was extraordinary there. There were so many plants and colours and combinations I had never seen, and the inspiring deep energy of the forest. We took black background paper so we could photograph plants right there in their full power, rooted and alive but isolated with the backdrop. I would like to visit the Amazon regularly; there is so much yet to discover there and I love the culture that celebrates simplicity and a raw connection to nature. It allows one to immediately return to one's core natural self. There's something inherently positive and beautiful in that."
Europe, he says, has its own perks, especially in the supportive environment it sustains for creativity and art, and its respect for experimentation. "In Japan art is still seen as some kind of recreation. There is very little respect for anything that hasn't received wide recognition, which makes it a difficult environment for artists to live and grow." Azuma remarks that, without international recognition, much of what is now accepted or celebrated in contemporary Japanese art would not be given such acknowledgement due to the emphasis placed on tradition. "Even when I started making pieces 18 years ago, the perception of flower art went only as far as Ikebana, a tradition from over 500 years ago. Even the ruling school of Ikebana hasn't changed since then. In that sense, we've come a long way in these two decades, but I'd like to take it much further. Mostly due to the clean-cut aesthetic created in the past, there's still a silent taboo around expressing the dark, the sensual, the mysterious - the shadow side if you will - with flowers. I want to express the life and energy that each flower embodies in its own unique way, without these preconceptions. Just as with humans, there is a beauty in the blossoming process and there is a beauty in the wilting."
Having started his career accidentally, taking up a part-time job at a flower shop close to the studio where his fellow aspiring band-mates would get together, it was a gradual process for Azuma to reach this perception of flowers. "When I was working in the flower shop there was always a triangular relationship between the customer, the flowers, and me, with the emphasis on the customer. However, most people would only talk about approximate price and choice of colour. I felt very strange about that. There had to be more feeling in them for what they wanted, and I also wanted to respond to that in a deeper way. Furthermore, I wanted to have a more direct and uninterrupted relationship and conversation with the flowers themselves, and to express what evolved out of that." Thus he started up his own order-made flower shop in Tokyo's Ginza, in a small property leased to him by a former customer.
During these years he discovered an artist who irrevocably altered his relationship to flowers, and to life. Yukio Nakagawa, a radically experimental ikebana artist from the 1950's, who famously shunned his background of the traditional Ikenobo school and went out on a limb with his avant-garde works. "When I first saw Nakagawa's work, it was like discovering the Sex Pistols for the first time. A punk approach to flowers! His freedom opened my mind and changed my approach to plants conclusively, and I confirmed my view that flowers should not be seen only to serve us as decorations, but deserve to be celebrated in their own right, each for their own individual spirit and force."
Thus began his career, that then evolved into creating a gallery for his works (Azuma Makoto Private Gallery) - in which he displayed new works every month for two years - and publishing a visual paper (AMPP) for each exhibition. He says it is this discipline and constant output that allowed an evolvement of his relationship to his pieces. "In the beginning I had a very strong desire to create something that would remain, such as through photography or illustration. However, as I repeated the process, I began to be able to let go of this attachment and drop deeper in my process. Now I can accept and enjoy the beauty in the temporary nature of my pieces -- a fundamental characteristic of flowers of course -- and really give myself to the essence of the moment."
There is something about Azuma's philosophy and temperament that evokes the image of a sushi chef. "It's exactly that!" he says, explaining the similarities in the process of going to market and finding the best "catch" of the day, and starting his process from there. But much deeper is the constant awareness of and gratitude in taking life in order to create, and a striving to bring out best the essence of the material.
"Actually, my father is a chef, as is my brother, so perhaps something quietly rubbed off in my upbringing after all", he laughs. "At the time I was so busy with music and being an adolescent but now I can start to see it. And my mother was always growing lots of flowers. She is the daughter of an orange farm, so perhaps working with plants is part of my DNA".
Clearly, one wouldn't argue with that.
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