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In full boom by Martin Tschechne | 3rd June, 2022 | Personalities

In full bloom. Flowers spread happiness and have an uplifting effect on anyone who receives them. With the world in lockdown, sales rose (pun intended) by 10 percent. Thanks in part to the ampifying effect of social media and to new and exciting designers who turn floral extravagance into a flourishing business.

It’s five in the morning and the streets of New York are nearly empty as Lewis Miller rumbles up Sixth Avenue in his truck. The lights turn green for him at every intersection, which pleases him: This has to be a good sign. Soon, Miller will be bringing chaos to the order around him. But what kind of rules forbid you from sending jolts of joy through other people at the break of day?

“Flowers exist to be beautiful. Why do we suffocate this profound essence under the weight of other meaning?” LEWIS MILLER

The floral designer and expert creator of extravagant flower arrangements for celebrations and parties and feels a small surge of adrenaline run through him on this morning in Manhattan. The back of his truck is piled high with thousands of amber yellow and deep red dahlias – flowers that had graced a glittering gala event just the evening before.

Very soon, Miller will find a new place to put them: a graffiti covered house wall, a trash can, maybe even a construction-site fence or the entrance to a subway – and in a matter of minutes, the gray new day will explode in an orgy of bright, blooming color. No one commissioned this job, nor does Miller have a permit. A few joggers pass by in search of early morning exercise.

Miller calls his floral invasion of public space a “flower flash,” and the colorful arrays couldn’t be more suited for Instagram. Brilliant blue hydrangeas, brazenly pink carnations, lilies, gladiolas, roses and delphiniums. And not just a few, either, but at least as many as you can hold in your arms. Usually more. And whatever the California-raised floral designer can get his hands on.

His truck is equipped for delivering flowers to important events like weddings, balls or fashion shows. One night in October in 2016 it struck him – the contrast between the glorious, lush beauty of his bouquets and table decorations and the dismal urban canyons of the surrounding city. So the flower guerilla went to work. Sometimes he’ll decorate an equestrian statue, other times a mailbox or a traffic island.

Miller’s impulsive, artistic act of letting flowers loose upon the world is at the same time an attack on the conventions of art history. For centuries, flowers symbolized human emotions. The intimate delicacy of a waterlily pond by Claude Monet – lovely to behold; the unabashed lasciviousness of a blooming orchid in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, pistil and stamins naked, their intention explicit; or the timid indication of a poisonous plant in the portrait of a hated despot: Entire libraries are dedicated to the subtle and not-so-subtle intricacies of floral symbolism. A single pansy is weighed down with attributed meaning, as are funeral lilies, yellow roses and the fragile anemone. In Japan, competing schools of the ikebana art of flower arranging make the heaviness of the whole world appear to be floating: in a budding branch, in two blades of grass, in a lotus flower. Miller prefers to help himself to the lot. When he buries a bus stop beneath luminous sunflowers, it’s a Vincent van Gogh, except in short pants.

The floral arrangements by this New York flower artist celebrate both sides of the baroque – the voluptuousness and the transience. And he’s hardly the only one doing it. From London to Los Angeles, from Antwerp to rural Somerset in England, virtuoso designers like Eric Buterbaugh and Georgie Newbery are discovering – and celebrating! – natural luxury with fresh, audacious displays. The list goes on: Eric Chauvin in Paris, Makoto Azuma in Tokyo, Victoria Brotherson, Olivier Giugni, Mark Colle – and always, at the peak of their beauty, the luxurious blooms already hint at decay.

Abundance, says Lewis Miller. Contrasts, playfulness, a bit of crazy humor. Above all, boundless energy – that’s what drives him. “I’m in the fantasy business,” he says with a directness that is perhaps found only in this city. “I transform moments into memories.” And with all due respect to his paying customers, whose significant moments he festoons with magnificent floral arrangements, the real fun begins the day after the big event, that’s what gives him a kick. When passersby stop in surprise, unable to believe what they’re seeing, perhaps reach for their phone and take a picture – and break out in a joyful smile. That’s what makes the whole endeavor worth it.

Like the evening several years ago when the designer left his studio with a large bouquet of peonies in his arms. The blossoms had already opened, perhaps too far for them to be sold as a promise of something still to come: They had reached their prime, a moment of truth filled with anticipation. What better time to reach out and grab life with both hands… Walking down the street, Miller felt the eyes of everyone who approached him, recognized the hunger in their gaze – for beauty, color, temptation. A hunger for now!

And that’s exactly what flowers are for. It’s the reason why nature puts on a display of such luxurious, wasteful profusion in the first place. In a world dominated by economics, speculation and waiting, an explosion of hydrangeas, roses and gladiolas is like a peek of paradise.

Issue3/22
City/Country-
PhotographyIrini Arakas Greenbaum