Story of Flowers – Azuma Makoto

 

If you have delved into my essential reading list, you will already know that I find the work of floral artist Azuma Makoto breathtaking, to the point of being moved to tears by it. In a world where one frequently feels one has seen it all before, his work is a revelation, encouraging us to look at plants and flowers in a completely different way. He has encased lavish bouquets in giant blocks of ice, pickled them in glass bottles, sent flowers to the bottom of the ocean and even launched a bonsai tree into space, each time producing visually stunning, thought-provoking results. Makoto demonstrates a level of imagination and creativity that’s rarely seen in any field of art or design, and I can’t help being dazzled by the way he presents flowers as objects of desire.

 

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I stumbled upon Makoto’s original Encyclopaedia of Flowers in an Amsterdam bookshop five years ago and, despite the hefty price tag – perhaps 50 Euros back then – I had to have it. I had not realised until last week that volumes II and III had been published in the intervening years. The copy in my library is now worth at least £344, and as much as £980 given its mint condition. I certainly didn’t anticipate that it would become an investment piece when I purchased it, although I have always handled the book with the greatest respect. Volume II would now set me back £79, and Volume III a modest £38. If I am a good boy this month, I might invest further.

 

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On March the 8th 2018 a new book, also a collaboration between Makoto and botanical photographer Shunsuke Shiinoki, is published by Thames and Hudson. ‘Flora Magnifica, The Art of Flowers in Four Seasons‘ promises ‘dense, luxuriant images, rich in colour and texture, in which nature and artifice are skilfully mingled‘. My copy is on preorder. I recommend you do the same.

 

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Having associated Makoto with photography for so long, I was surprised and delighted to stumble upon his first foray into animation. If you are feeling in the slightest bit down about the state of life and the universe, I promise you will feel uplifted by the simple beauty of this three and a half-minute video. Entitled ‘The Story of Flowers‘ it seeks to explain the life-cycle of flowers and their place in nature. After failing to find a good book or film to help him explain the concept to his daughter, Makoto enlisted UK Artist Katie Scott and animator James Paulley to illustrate the narrative arc of a plant: rooting, sprouting, blooming, pollination by birds and insects, surviving rain and storms, rebirth, and finally decay. The result is a little moment of pure joy.

 

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22 thoughts on “Story of Flowers – Azuma Makoto

  1. Wow! Dan what wonderful images and visual bliss. I was transported away and totally lost in the animation. What a find! I will follow Makoto and seek out his work and might even treat myself to his forthcoming new volume. Thank you for highlighting such a brilliant visual artist. I wonder how he keeps the flowers alive in the ice? I would have thought they’d perish but obviously not. He has such an eye for beauty don’t you think?!

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    1. Visual bliss indeed. You summed it up in two words Jill. I love the exuberance. Imagine having access to that quantity of exotic blooms. I fear red carnations and dyed blue chrysanthemums from my local Tesco would not be good substitutes. I have always wanted a chest freezer though. I might have to experiment during the summer 😉

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  2. He’s exibites the same creativity in the 21st Century as the 17 Century Dutch masters did with their magnificent flower portraiture/stilllife’s. Unlike many who lost $$$$ big during Tulipmania, your investment has returned impressively in many ways. Bravo. Great post. What are those blue flowers in that block of frozen ice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are hydrangeas at the bottom, delphiniums at the top. I can see some tulips in the middle too.

      I was shocked when I checked on Amazon to see if the original Encyclopaedia was still available. The print run must have been tiny. There is a reference to the Dutch Masters in the blurb of the new book, so I believe you are right. I wonder what Rembrandt would make of Makoto’s work?

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  3. Thank you very much for such an interesting, informative blog introducing a great artist.

    I was send the animation part as a New Year’s greeting last month; enjoyed it in amazement once again this morning. Knowing the story of its creation and its creators makes it twice special.

    I have fwd yours to my niece in Boston for her 5 years old daughter who is already very much interested in nature and plants.

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    1. How lovely that the video is going viral! I think my niece may also enjoy it. I particularly like the style of the animation which reminds me of books I used to have when I was younger, and of a book I enjoy now called Botanicum. Come to think of it, the artist who illustrated that book is the same as the one who worked on the animation! I’ve just put two and two together. Have a lovely weekend Ceylan.

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      1. Yes, indeed, the same illustrator Katie Scott! Thank you for bringing it to my attention too.

        I have send a copy of Botanicum to my niece in Boston as a new year gift back in December 2016 after corresponding with RHS book store online to find out if it was suitable for a 4 year old (something RHS books does not have in its reviews); upon their suggestion, she enjoyed having it read to her by her mother and fascinated by Scott’s illustrations.

        As I am growing up (!) I recollect memories from my past and find interesting anecdote like scenes in my memory as if looking at old faded photos, of things I have done with my grandfather, or grand aunts and others; though none of them are around any longer to ask what, why, where or who was who, I cherish them, glad that we did. For the same reason I am trying to connect with my many nieces and a nephew, and their offsprings as much as I can though very rarely since we are all scattered around both in the country and the globe.

        Next time your niece visits, see if she would be interested in your old copy of Botanicum: Even if not she might store it in her memory to enjoy in the future.

        Meanwhile I humbly suggest a book on gardeners and gardening on par with Eleanor Perenyi or Karel Capek’s; I have recently finished it and enjoyed very much:

        ‘Life in the Garden’ by Penelope Lively.

        After all what are these cold, wet, windy and short winter days are for gardeners but reading 🙂

        Best wishes,

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      2. Thank you for the recommendation. My niece loves books, she always has since she was a baby. It must run in the family. I shall seek that book out ….. I feel I should already know it. I managed to read only six poems last night before falling asleep, which is why it takes me so long to get through my reading list. Dan

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  4. Dan. You must have X-ray vision like Clark Kent to pick out those posies. You must be awesome at those “where’s Waldo books” There always been that quest for that quintessential blue flower border. Christopher Llyod said blue and purple have a “recessive” visual effect and needs to be paired with it’s polar opposite to make it pop. Rembrandt was allegedly a curmudgeon. I don’t think he did those gorgeous lush still life’s. I think the National Gallery in London has a few of them. And you get to walk in and enjoy them gratis any time you want.
    You lucky lucky dog.

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