Tropical flowers and plants aren’t exactly abundant in Canada, nor are exotic animals and insects. Even so, Montréal-based artist and photographer Raku Inoue finds a way to showcase both with his colourful animal portraits made from flowers, leaves, twigs, seeds, and stems.
Raku’s animal portraits are inspired by the ancient and traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement – Ikebana. His ongoing art series Natura Insects features a menagerie of lifelike butterflies, beetles, spiders, and even owls that have been crafted from bright and detailed flower arrangements. The flowers, twigs, leaves, and stems for his animal portraits mostly come from his garden. And each and every one is unique as he chooses his materials according to the seasons and what nature offers during them.
“It all started when one day, it was very windy and the petals of the rose bush in my backyard fell to the ground. I picked those up and made my first floral sculpture: a rose petal beetle. I found the process to be so calming and therapeutic that I made this a creative exercise that I would do in the morning while drinking coffee. With time, this became my artistic identity.”
After Raku carefully arranges them into floral sculptures, he then photographs them against a white background for a result that looks like displays seen in natural history museums. It can take 20 minutes or it can take a few weeks for Raku to create one of his animal portraits — depending on the complexity of the sculpture.
While studying the art of Ikebana, Raku learned to respect nature and utilize seasonal materials. He only uses materials that are most abundant rather than picking what looks most attractive. For example, after a rain, he would collect petals that had fallen to the ground rather than searching for flowers still connected to the tree or stem.
“I love nature, so working with materials that represent that is pleasant and meaningful. It’s all about respecting the materials and their ephemerality. I quickly learned that nothing is forever, especially in nature.”