Growing up on a flower farm in North Rustico, PEI, Laura Jean Forrester's family would sell harvested dahlias, lilies, sunflowers and other native flora at the Charlottetown farmers' market while Forrester took pottery lessons. But it wasn't until 2014, as a sculpture student at NSCAD, that her current art practice really bloomed.
"I was fortunate to go on a trip to Milwaukee for a sculpture conference, and in a gallery there I saw a Picasso sculpture that was bronze flowers and it was like, 'Duh.' It just clicked," she says. "I was also feeling homesick, so when I returned, I thought I'd make something that reminded me of home. I haven't stopped since then."
Forrester's works are intricate and ornate ceramic flower arrangements, from bushels to large-scale structures, designed to complement the site of installation. Last February, she was invited to install pieces at Lion & Bright in a show called Espalier. "The walls in Lion & Bright really gave me something to work from," she says. "Espalier is a traditional European growing style against walls, and I was inspired by the bricks in the space."
The show featured a large and colourful pear tree and several flower bouquets that represented her overall approach to ceramic design. "I think it's an instinctual, internal appreciation that I have for nature and beauty, so I always come up with a plan that is about harmony, balance and rhythm between the multiple elements," she says. "I create a whole bunch of notes that will work modularly so I can create something in situ."
In the summer of 2014, Forrester was the winner of the $10,000 RBC Art Competition to install The Waterside Garden at the bank's main Atlantic branch on Hollis Street.
The piece is a delicate trellis with a centred urn full of sculpted flowers. Her form of art forever captures the otherwise impermanent phenomena in nature.
"Often I'm creating from visual memory. On the farm, we had thousands and thousands of dahlias. They were my favourite growing up because there was such a variety, so they're a recurring symbol in my work. And it's funny sometimes because I think I'm making some kind of real flower, but in the end it's a Laura flower," she laughs. "Because I think of form and colour together, and it's not always related to a real flower."
But her free creative design is the beauty of her work. Since graduating with a BFA last spring, Forrester was living in Lunenburg, but she's been back in her Halifax studio for the last month, preparing for her first show: March 4 at Studio 21 Fine Art Gallery on Hollis Street. The show has an opening reception that day from 5-7pm.
"It's been a whirlwind. The show at Studio 21 will be all new work that will push my limits," she says. "It's exciting for me. And I think that I'll continue to go bigger and more immersive with the pieces, if I can, by installing them in spaces I can respond to. I really like things that bring people in. And I think I will always go back to zinnias."