As the daughter of a gardener, flowers have always been a muse to artist Rebecca Louise Law. But it was while studying fine art that her two-dimensional tributes became a source of frustration. Desperate to break free from the confines of oils and canvases, she drove to her family home, raided her father’s nursery and returned to class with a car full of fresh cuts. The result, her 2003 installation, Dahlia, would lead to commissions from New York’s Times Square, Nike, Hermès, and London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
In a way, dreamy and sensual, in others strong and celebratory, Law’s sculptures are a testament to both the resilience and fragility of flowers and foliage – themes that resonated vividly with Law on her first trip to Greenwich Peninsula. “Exploring this place in the midst of winter was fascinating,” she says. “What shone through was the beautiful marshland planting: the common reed glowing in the sunlight, rising up to four metres tall. It stood grand amongst the emerging metropolis.”
“My research into the area uncovered a history of agriculture, marshland and wetlands, that grew into a wasteland of trading, crime, pirates, gunpowder, chemicals and many more underworld stories. But, no matter what, these marshland plants still stood strong.”
Then she chanced upon the iris climbing proudly over the marshes, with its strong associations to new beginnings reaching back into Ancient Egypt and Greek mythology. And with rumoured medicinal and healing qualities, it seemed like the perfect choice for her artwork on the Peninsula – a neighbourhood that has been reborn, nurtured back from an industrial wasteland to a flourishing community. The seed of an idea planted, Law’s vision sprouted into the beginnings of The Iris; an installation that will see 10,000 individual stems meticulously arranged into a fully immersive installation.
Such artistry requires two teams of handlers. One will be responsible for entwining each flower by hand with copper wire; the other for suspending each delicate stem throughout the gallery. Law will direct the process like a maestro. “I wish I could do it all myself,” she says, “but working with fresh flowers always creates time pressure.
“To ensure preservation, every flower needs to be hung before they start to decay. We will be working with 10,000 irises over five days. Each flower has to be individually sewn and wrapped to ensure that it holds, no matter how much it shrinks with time. The natural oils within the flower enable the preservation.”
A fitting backdrop for Law’s creations, she’s made her home on East London’s Columbia Road — famous for its Sunday flower market, which turns the street into a vivid, verdant, oasis attracting thousands of florists, locals and tourists alike.
Her home is also her studio space and gallery, the gallery being open to the public on market day. “It felt wrong to have a space devoted to flowers and not open up the doors for locals and tourists,” muses Law. “I love to share what I am doing and show the progression of my work.”
Last year, that work took Law to Melbourne, Australia, where she created a permanent installation in Eastland Mall. It took six months to plan and erect, and used 150,000 locally sourced flowers, all individually hand-wired and preserved. “It was an incredible achievement – epic, amazing and exhausting,” says Law. “I have definitely left a part of myself in Melbourne and I will always feel so proud of all we achieved there.”
Back in the NOW Gallery, suspended in the air, the irises will immerse visitors in every direction. Over time, the flowers will settle and preserve, evolving as time passes and the season ends. “I often feel like the work is clinging on to life and slowing down death,” says Law. “I’m always in awe of what surrounds us and how vast the earth is. To capture just a small extract of this excites me.”
The Iris is at the NOW Gallery from 3 March – 7 May 2017. For more information, please visit the NOW Gallery.