For her latest installation celebrating the release of Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin, floral artist Dr Lisa Cooper set herself a challenge: to work with silk and satin flowers, which she had “never, ever worked with”.
To help achieve this task, she decided to try something completely new: using her knowledge of fresh flowers – the way they “move and dance” – to elicit the same emotional response with artificial blooms. To do so, she thought, would be a bona fide achievement.
So far, the experiment has been a success. Cooper says visitors to her studio have been overcome with the “beauty and magnitude” of the silk and satin floral work-in-progress. “I’ve had a couple of burst-into-tears moments,” she says. “Which was really incredible.”
Through trial and error, Cooper realised the flexibility of the silk and satin stems makes them particularly suited to sculpting. “I’m able to form them and manipulate them in ways that are impossible with fresh flowers,” she says. “I’m also able to spend a bit more time and really perfect this larger scale of work.”
In creating the Midsummer Solstice floral installation – which will be displayed at Paddo Inn or ‘Paddo Ginn’ as it shall be known in October – Cooper took cues from tasting notes provided by Hendrick’s Master Distiller Lesley Gracie, who describes the gin’s flavour as “round”. Juniper is the central structure that supports the gin’s other botanicals – like the outline of a circle, says Gracie.
Using these guidelines, Cooper seized on the image of a disc to produce a series of freestanding and free-hanging sculptures in a palette of pink and mustard. From hand, she crafted peonies, roses, foxgloves, hydrangeas, berries, ivy and flowering eucalyptus interspersed with feathers and bows.
“I wanted to create an immersive environment where the experience of smelling and tasting this incredible gin might become visible or tangible,” she says. “I wanted to translate the bouquet that the gin-maker has embedded into this gin through an all-encompassing textural, floral form.”
Cooper’s first exposure to flowers as an artistic medium was 15 years ago, when she got a job in a flower shop “to pay the rent” while finishing her PhD in Fine Art. “I really fell in love with the trade,” she says. Part of the appeal, she explains, was the intense hands-on labour demanded by floristry. “I’m a workhorse from way back.”
It wasn’t a huge leap to connect her artistic practice with her newfound love of flowers. “My grandmother was a painter and my father was a butcher, and as a child, my father used to talk to me a lot about his trade of butchery being connected to sculpture. I grew up with this kind of familial understanding of the relationship between art and trade. It always really interested me,” she says. “Once I learned the trade, I began to see flowers as a medium for art and relinquished all other mediums.”
Soon after her realisation, she set up a studio and was creating artworks for the Sydney Theatre Company. Today, Cooper’s a permanent resident artist at Carriageworks in Sydney. Among her many clients are top institutions and businesses such as the National Gallery of Australia, the Prime Minister’s Office, The Australian Ballet, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tiffany & Co, Deutsche Bank, Toni Maticevski and Romance Was Born.
Tips for styling spring and summer blooms at home:
• First – and most importantly – Cooper advises you source your flowers from a someone you trust. “It’s good to support florists – they make the world beautiful,” she says. “It’s not just a matter of going to the Sydney Flower Market – there are relationships with growers, knowing exactly the right time for differ-ent flowers, their peak season, and who to get them from.”
• Once you get your blooms home, cut the stems and plunge them into water without delay. “The stems reseal very quickly,” warns Cooper. “The moment you cut the stem of a flower, it starts to close over immediately, so you literally have to have a vessel of water right next to you.” Another tip she suggests is to re-cut the stems and change the water daily.
• Meanwhile, don’t be intimidated by the prospect of trying your hand at styling fresh flowers, even if you’re a beginner. A stunning arrangement can be as simple as filling a beautiful vessel with masses of one type of flower. Cooper also encourages people to attempt to “compose” flowers in a vase. “Most people will unwrap flowers and stick them in a vase, but I challenge them to stand there and look at each stem … and make a conscious choice about the placement of each of those blooms.”
• The bloom you choose is entirely up to you. This time of year, though, there are some go-tos Cooper recommends. Among her favourite spring and summer blooms are fragrant garden roses, lily of the valley, violets, gardenias and grape hyacinths (muscari), which have “the most beautiful fragrance of any flower I have ever smelt,” she says.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin.