When Rebecca Louise Law set about creating The Iris, an installation at the NOW Gallery on Greenwich Peninsula, she became fascinated by the history of the land…
Were you always destined to be an artist?
My family background is a combination of artists and gardeners going back over six generations, so I suppose my art practice was destiny. I was brought up in a small village seven miles north of Cambridge, living in a thatched cottage with three older brothers and a younger sister. We had a huge garden that backed onto hundreds of fields, a river and a National Trust Estate, where my father was Head Gardener. There were no boundaries. My childhood was full of play, where building dens and climbing trees were a part of daily life.
My family had always either worked with the land or documented it. My Aunt, Uncle and Grandma were artists who took their inspiration from nature. They always inspired me to draw and paint. I can’t remember life without art. My father and mother always encouraged my siblings and I to enjoy everything that the earth provides. They taught us how to be resourceful and use the land around us. Their love for nature is still inspirational – seeing the world through their eyes opened up the natural world to me.
How did that evolve into you becoming an installation artist?
I loved recording nature – at art school I created large seascapes and intense floral paintings. Depicting the natural world through my eyes became an obsession. With every 2D artwork I worked hard to capture the essence of nature and what I had experienced as a child. Each work felt like a crude imitation and never as sublime as nature itself, so I started experimenting with other materials, breaking away from the canvas. By 2003 I swapped my paints for flowers, and using a natural object to depict the natural world felt right. I had no fear in what I wanted to create in a space and sculpting with flowers seemed to come naturally. I’ve had my parents’ constant support and encouragement throughout. With their knowledge I have been able to take risks with how I use the natural material, allowing my art to progress without fear.
Is there an overriding theme behind your work?
The theme revolves around the viewer’s experience of nature without the constraints of time. Every installation I create is intended to last and I have spent years experimenting in preservation. I like the idea of being transported to a space that is suspended in time.
How does your work evolve, and is this an exciting process for you as an artist?
The process of sculpting with an ephemeral material has had continual challenges and I’ve really enjoyed the ongoing process. Working with flowers is expensive and every installation has value, each piece is used to discover new properties within the art practice. Whether it’s a different flower, technique or space each new artwork is a new discovery. In the beginning, I had a lot of waste and trials, but today every flower is saved and preserved. The longevity of each work is progressing and it’s exciting to see how reliable the flower can be as a sculptural material.
Why the focus on the iris?
I wanted to use a flower that was common to marshlands. When I looked at creating an artwork on Greenwich Peninsula I was fascinated by the history of the land and how it was utilised in the past. The wetlands and marshland are still represented along the Thames Pathway and Ecology Park, but I wanted to bring nature into the hub of the concrete metropolis.
What do you hope people will take away from the exhibition?
I hope that the viewer will have a moment to get lost in nature.
See The Iris until 7 May at NOW Gallery, The Gateway Pavilion, Peninsula Square SE10 0SQ; nowgallery.co.uk