Have you ever walked by a garbage can in New York City, only to find it overflowing with a beautiful bouquet? If you have, the miraculous sighting was not the result of a date gone wrong, but that of the work of artist Lewis Miller. Best-known for his "Flower Flashes," Miller is a florist, event designer, and the author of Styling Nature, A Masterful Approach to Floral Design.
Miller's creations, which he calls his "gift to New Yorkers" have been popping up across the city since 2016, covering not only trash cans but also construction sites, bus shelters, and subway stations. We spoke to the artist about his first Flower Flash, the public's strong response to his work, and what some have dubbed the "Floraissance."
Can you remember when you first had the idea to create a Flower Flash?
Many years ago, I had the idea of turning a garbage can into a vessel for flowers. The idea is so strange that I never put it into motion. But a little over a year ago, I was having a bit of a “crossroads” moment. The wedding and event design arm of my business was expanding and thriving and I was extremely happy with my team but I began to feel disenchanted with the work and had a strong desire to give back and reconnect to making flowers in a new and unorthodox way.
I had a series of revealing brainstorming sessions with my Director of Special Projects and out of those conversations, the Flower Flash was born. Like most things that feel foreign and a little scary, you just have to do it. So one day in October of 2016, we had a large amount of colorful dahlias and carnations come back from a movie premiere event and we decided the next morning we would flash the Imagine mosaic in Central Park. It was quick, provided such an incredible jolt of positive, creative energy for me and my team. Needless to say, from that morning on we were hooked. Three flashes later, the Trash Can Flower Flash was born.
I’ve seen your work on the street before, and never without at least a few people photographing it. Why do you think the public responds so strongly to your work?
I think New Yorkers respond so strongly to my work because it is very unexpected. Most commuters at 6 am heading to the subway or bus don’t expect to turn a corner and see a 10-foot tall cherry blossom arrangement exploding out of a garbage can. It’s the equivalent of seeing a peacock on a street corner. It’s just the last thing you would expect to see. And because the medium is flowers, which are so beautiful and fleeting, even the most jaded of New Yorkers can’t help but smile. The message is simple and has never changed, all we are trying to do is bring a little joy and wonder to this great city and the people that live in it.
I’m curious: what's your favorite flower?
The black and white French anemone. It’s simple, graphic, modern, romantic, bold. It embodies both a soft lightness and dark moody energy depending on how you use it. That flower is the definition of contrast, and I like contrast.
You make beautiful landscapes out of pretty desolate scenes, like garbage cans and construction sites. What’s your goal in creating these bouquets? Are you covering up ugliness?
Never. I personally don’t find the inner workings of this city to be ugly. I love the grit and the texture, whether it be a fire hydrant covered in stickers or a Jersey barriers riddled with graffiti. I see the city through a very specific lens. The bubble gum covered sidewalks look like polka dots to me and the graphic white lines at a crosswalk look like zebra stripes.
The contrast of a perfect unfurled peony or a lush garden rose next to the layered grime that is NYC, that’s beautiful to me. My work is not there to cover up some perceived ugliness but instead to complement it in an unexpected way. To make the ordinary and mundane feel magical.
Some of your work revolves around the LGBTQ+ community, like your piece at The Stonewall Inn (shown above). Why is that an important aspect of your work?
It’s important to remember where we came from and those who have fought and sacrificed for our community.
What is your favorite - and least favorite - part of working in a city like New York?
Things get done in New York. We are the most efficient city in terms of the use of time and space. The flip side is it’s almost impossible to shut down.
Speaking of shutting down, when do you work? When everyone is asleep?
The Flower Flashes are installed very early in the morning, around 5 AM. They take about 15 to 20 minutes to execute.
There’s a lot of new exciting things going on in the “florist universe” — I’m thinking of talent like Brittany Asch (Glossier, Mansur Gavriel). Why do you think flowers are having a kind of “renaissance”?
I recently read a graffiti tag on the side of a post no bills wall that read: Are you ready for the Floraissance? I am wary of trends. In my universe, flowers are ever present. The fact that other artists, musicians, fashion designers are appreciating flowers and using them in their work is a great thing.
Who are other artists we should keep an eye out for?
Olivia Bond. She is a 10-year-old actress who took my wreath making class at the Whitby hotel this past December. I swear if I could have hired her on the spot, I would have!