Like many aspiring rock musicians in Japan, Makoto Azuma set out for Tokyo to make his mark on the arena stage. However, what began as a part-time survival job ended up planting the seeds for what ultimately became his life’s work. It also led him to the realization that the way he expresses himself visually can be interpreted in a variety of ways, just as it would with music. He explains that as each project speaks for itself, one person can call him a “flower artist,” “botanical sculptor,” “flower shop owner” or a fool. However, what matters most is that he delights in taking flowers and plants to new places visually and creatively.
Botanical sculptor Makoto Azuma views nature as both his greatest inspiration and his expansive paint box.
“This job in a flower shop was what led me to first discover the beauty of the plants, and enlightened me on the common points between music and plants,” says Azuma. “Each art form is both momentary and unique on their own. Just as there are as many expressions of red roses and their appearances changes in their lifetime, a piece of music is also evolving depending on the mental state of the player and the environment that it was created or performed. Both music and flower art requires one to express by taking all of those changes and factors into account.”
The setting of the floral sculptures, meanwhile, can have as much impact on the viewer as the sculptures themselves. His “In Bloom” series takes the time-honored “still life” trope popularized by the Dutch Masters of the 17th Century to a completely different place. In “EXOBOTANICA,” a grand bouquet was launched into the stratosphere over Nevada’s Lovelock Desert Nevada desert. In “Deep Sea,” another vibrant bouquet is placed within the deep ocean. Like music, the flowers perform differently as they react to the foreign environments of outer space and the ocean. Another recent installation, “Back to the Earth,” may look like an ornamental garden on the surface. As the flowers, arranged but not planted, decompose, the installation makes a statement about the fleeting nature of time itself.
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“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,” he explains. “I wondered what it would be like to plant a piece of the Earth into the sky. We observed the phenomenon of flowers within different spaces such as the desert, outer space, salt-water lakes, and the bottom of the sea, and incidentally captured these elements at play.”
“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."
Even with that, Azuma sees his work more akin to the culinary arts than any other existing visual art influences. “The nature of my work is quite similar to a sushi chef’s,” he says. “Both florists and sushi chefs have the common mission to create art through the precious lives of living things from the natural world. They strive for the best appearance and aromas from the freshest materials, which changes really quickly and varies throughout the seasons. (We both) need to constantly sharpen our senses to always be well prepared to deal with the living things.”
Azuma brings up an interesting point when he compares the roles flowers play in different cultures. While some people in Europe and the U.S. display flowers at home or the workplace based on their mood, flowers and plants have historically been regarded as something sacred in Japan that should be appreciated everyday. He adds that fossils of flowers have been found in ancient Jomon-period tombs (approximately 10,000 years ago). It provides him evidence that plants were regarded not only as something holy but also something inspired by a collective emotional need to embrace beauty that is timeless. With that in mind, he says his art is intended to reshape that ancient Japanese sensibility into a contemporary and universal context, and hopes it will inspire more people will be moved to appreciate flowers on a daily basis.
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From the moment of birth to death, and in special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, flowers accompany us through our whole lives.
“I think that displaying flowers at home can certainly help us to enrich our hearts and lifestyle although it may not be visible,” he says, encouraging people to look beyond the surface of even the most basic floral arrangement. “Plants are essential to our lives. From the moment of birth to death, and in special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, flowers accompany us through our whole lives. As I see it, the work of a florist is to tie humans and plants together beautifully. That is why I am deeply happy with my work. They give me the best memories every single day so I have no capacity to be flooded with nostalgia at all.”
In addition to his gallery-come-flower shop, Jardin and several public installations throughout Japan, his work is in demand through commissions in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Thailand, Singapore, and elsewhere. While they run the gamut from art museum and gallery exhibits, to use in advertising and landscape design requests for buildings and public spaces, one unifying factor is that those making the commissions are seeking new and creative ways to use nature to bring people together with my botanical sculptures. He also says he hopes the presence of the public installations will get more children involved and interest in conservation and nature.
“The fact that there are various kinds of offers mean there are increasing number of people that have expectations on such kind of creation,” Azuma affirms. “Water flows inside and energy is released on the outside of the flowers and plants. It is always my wish for people to feel my work and imagine with it, using their five senses other than their sight. I am always conscious of that when I create my artworks. I rely on my ears when I create, so my audience doesn’t really need use their eyesight when they experience my artworks.”