From Rihanna to Outer Space, Azuma Makoto’s awe-inspiring homage to nature reimagines the world one flower at a time.
“I wish to continue exploring the world to discover new flowers with my own eyes,” says Azuma Makoto, “my experiences with these flowers will serve to be an inspiration for my work. I intend on finding new ways of expressing these, outside the realm of nature.”
The 42-year-old Japanese floral artist and botanical sculptor does indeed take nature to places it’s never been before – quite literally, in the case of his Exobiotanica project; an ambitious experiment that sent flowers into space.
Makoto moved to Tokyo in the 90s to pursue a career as a musician – but instead wound up working as a vendor at the Ota Flower Market, which diverted his path, opening his own florist in 2002, Jardins Des Fleurs, with the photographer Shiinoki Shunsuketo.
Makoto’s natural materials are impossible to imitate – perhaps the reason that his designs occupy their own space in the arts, and the reason for which he’s been sought out for collaborations with some of the most prestigious visionaries of our times. Most recently British Vogue’s Edward Enniful invited Makoto to create exclusive pieces for the magazine’s historic September issue, and one of his breathtaking headpiece is worn by Bajan superstar Rihanna on the current cover of British Vogue, shot by Nick Knight. He’s worked with Fendi, Colette, Hermes, and Helmut Lang, to name but a few, and his epic installations have taken over art galleries, concert halls and bookstores.
Yet in a world where nature is under threat, the plants and flora that inspire Makoto’s practice and daily life are also painful reminders of what we stand to lose; there is an ephemeral, ethereal touch to his works, as much as they elevate beauty above all, there is a wistfulness about them too. Here, Makoto talks frankly to FOLD about his career, listening to the music flowers, his infinite passion for nature, and taking his creativity to extraordinary new terrain.
Could you tell me a little about your background?
I was born and raised in Fukuoka, the southern part of Japan. The turning point in my career was the moment I started a part-time job alongside my band. It was there that I encountered the beauty of flowers for the first time. Also, I realised that there are many points in common in music and flowers; for example, both are momentary and the only in the world. Just like every red rose has different characters, a sound differs depending on the player’s state of mind and the surrounding environment. Combining all these elements together to express something is basically the same process both in music and flower art. That is one of the reasons why I became utterly absorbed in this world.
Perhaps that is why you are famous for “listening” to flowers: can you tell me more about this?
I value hearing as the most crucial sense to my creating process. When I confront the flowers, instead of looking at its colour and form, I try to listen. In order to create something, I need to listen to what the flowers have to say. When I am gathering a number of different flowers, I need to listen to each of their voices. It passes over the idea of language, but it is nothing occult. This might be related to the fact that my hearing ability is the most stable among all my senses.
Can you describe your day to day life: what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you awake at night?
I draw flowers from water that I stock up in the morning, work on customers’ orders, and visit boutiques to arrange flowers. At the same time, I create pieces, photograph them, and clean up the studio – every task is connected. When the sun rises, a new day starts. I live a new life every day, and there is no “typical day” for me.
You’ve done a lot of work with fashion brands too: is it something you feel comfortable doing?
The flower is an eternal motif in the world of fashion as it embodies the notion of beauty, strength, vitality and the ephemeral. Fashion is a direct reflection of the times we live in which is denoted through trends, but what I find interesting is how flowers unfailingly continue to be a part of it. I think this is because flowers touch all of us in a way that defies the conventions of era, country, language, and religion; it is universally and instinctively seen as beautiful. I decide who to work with based on the brand’s worth, their concept, and how much I can relate and respect their work.
The approach to nature, in particular to flowers, in Japanese culture is so rich and symbolic. How much do you identify your work as “Japanese”, or how much does Japan influence your work?
I myself am creating artworks without being conscious of being Japanese. However, all my inspirations come from the flowers themselves, and I also consider the four seasons (sense of season) very important to my work. Luckily, I am based in Japan, a country that has clear seasonal differences. That makes me able to create works that are characteristic to each season, and that is quite crucial to me.
What made you want to launch flowers into space – you’re’ Exobiotanica’ experiment garnered a lot of attention: logistically it must have been an enormous challenge to pull off…?
I always try to look for ways to bring out a different side to flowers and plants and display their uniqueness to those who have never seen it before. I wondered what it would be like to implant the earth itself from the sky. We observed the phenomenon of flowers in different spaces such as the desert, outer space, salt-water lakes, and the bottom of the sea and incidentally capture these two elements at play.
With your work being so wrapped up in nature, and with all the catastrophes Japan has suffered – do you think a lot about the political aspects of working with the environment?
There isn’t a day that I don’t think about the environment when I create, as I am living on this planet and dealing with plants day by day. Even in Tokyo, where I am based, the environment has a dizzying pace of change every year, and I can certainly foresee that the problem will further proceed. As a human being, I am always conscious of the issues, yet up until now, I have come to a conclusion that it is not something my artwork should be conveying. It is certain that I will engage in a certain way in the future to confront this issue.
What does keep you passionate and focused?
My passion lies in the plants themselves. There are countless existing plants in this world, while each of them carries a different expression. Moreover, there are various stages of life in each plant. Sprouts, buds, followed by the appearance of floral stems and the blooming of flowers until they decay. Each moment differentiates from the other, beautiful and precious. My mission is to bring out each plant’s hidden potential, beauty and make them even more attractive. Every day, I meet different new plants. As long as I am interacting with them, my passion will never fade away.
If you could achieve one thing with your work, what would it be?
I pay homage to nature by deliberately cutting off the flower’s ties with the earth and incorporating artificial materials, thus creating friction between nature and man.