Visual Poetry with Doctor Cooper
Lisa Cooper isn’t your typical florist. With a PhD in Fine Art from Sydney’s College of Fine Arts and an intellectual passion for her chosen materials, she is a prolific creator. We spoke to the woman behind Doctor Cooper Studio to find out how she articulates her insatiable curiosity through floral arrangements that resemble art installations.
Were you creative as a child?
I was, but not in the way you’d imagine. I was dyslexic, so my writing had to be reflected in a mirror to be read. As a result, words became more intriguing to me than they are to most – I studied words that appeared both difficult and astonishing until I mastered them.
I was, however, deeply aware of aesthetics from a very early age – I recall being as young as four years old and categorising objects, things, elements, fragrances, people and textures into two categories: the acceptable and the utterly unacceptable.
What led you to floristry?
My work with flowers started with my use of them as a medium in the production of artwork. I came to understand them as powerful signifiers and potent imagers.
During the years of my postgraduate study, I worked at a flower shop where I picked up the trade of Floristry. I have a deep affection and respect for the trades, whereby practical and theoretical knowledge is passed from master to apprentice, who becomes journeyman and then the master themselves.
I was utterly drawn to and intoxicated by the flowers. For me, flowers are the pinnacle medium for the expression of human emotion – the point of departure for all of my work. I have known toil, great love, heartbreak, monumental loss and incredible joy in order to do the work I do now.
Your floral arrangements are quite sculptural. How do you think your fine art background informs your aesthetic?
I bring my whole history to my work. The soul that endured the horror of a PhD is still within me and accompanies me every day in the studio; likewise, the student of painting, sculpture and installation.
My work with flowers is an intuitive act. At times I am driven by a contrasting palette and texture and, at other times, by the harmony possible in combining corresponding textures and tones, and variants between these two approaches.
Are there any artists that you constantly draw inspiration from?
Anish Kapoor, Bill Viola, Matthew Barney…I could go on! I am very persuaded by art; I think that my work is influenced by every artwork I have ever seen, accidentally or on purpose. It is one of the reasons I don’t ‘follow’ (on the ‘gram) and I don’t consume art (by going to every show).
I think the most valuable muse we possess is our proclivities and the completely unique way that we absorb our existence. Mine is a poetical approach – the divine and mundane mingle for me.
You seem to handle your materials with great reverence and care. Is there a flower that has particular significance to you?
I love the most fleeting of the flowers – the lily-of-the-valley is possibly the most fragrant and poetic of them all.
Flowers often appear at seminal moments in people’s lives – weddings, funerals, congratulations, condolences. How do you try to honour that human emotion in your arrangements?
Flowers are profoundly metaphorical for man. They allegorize birth, life and death. To declare that flowers have the capacity to image love is to infer that they are capable of approaching transcendental levels of human experience.
You collaborated with Armadillo & Co on our latest brand campaign, incorporating the yarns from our rugs into an elaborate art installation. How did you find working with wool for a change?
For me, wool is the same as flowers – it is another miracle of nature. I think I was able to articulate and leverage its materiality in the same manner – and I knew it the moment I saw it and was so excited by the notion of it.
One of these pieces now has pride of place in our newly opened Sydney flagship showroom. How do you think it interacts with, and contributes to, the interior architecture?
Oh, I wonder if I am qualified to answer! I’ll try. I think that the work has the effect of drawing the eye up and across the impressive sprawl of the ceiling and it seems at once to punctuate and harmonise with the natural, evenness of the interior.
How can our readers use flora and fauna to transform the mood of their interiors?
Buy flowers that you absolutely love en masse and arrange them in a vase one by one, conscious of the placement of each stem.
Look at the flowers. This seems obvious, but I think few people do. Observe them closely for marks, weak petals and leaves, and choose the strongest and most vibrant. When you get them home, remove the majority of the leaves so that the water is replenishing the flower and not feeding leaves. Cut the stems and plunge immediately into cold tap water.
Finally, where do you go for inspiration – whether it’s in Australia, internationally or online?
Wherever I am in the world, I go to the nearest art gallery.
Portrait of Lisa Cooper by Hugh Stewart. Armadillo & Co brand campaign styled by Claire Delmar and photographed by Sharyn Cairns.