An Arranger's Art Blooms in Seoul
"Flowers should make a statement," says the florist Maurice August. He speaks of flowers as if they are a subject matter created in his head soon to be realized in an abstract painting and continues, "They should go with the spatial concept on the whole. Each time flowers are arranged, the work should be made from a completely different inspiration." To illustrate his point, both hands move in a dramatic sweeping motion over imaginary flowers, much like a composer conducting the musicians of an orchestra.
Mr. August first came to Korea last year when he was asked to display his works at prestigious receptions, state lunches and dinners for the third Asia-Europe Meeting. He was invited again under the auspices of the Grand Inter-Continental hotel in Seoul to revamp the vast interiors of the two branches before going off to decorate the APEC meeting this September in China.
A native of New Zealand, Mr. August has traveled extensively abroad to pursue his dream of creating worlds made from flowers and inspiration. At 72, he is eloquent, expressive, full of energy and still in sync with popular trends. While watching the film "Billy Elliot," he said, he immediately identified himself with the movie's main character.
Like Billy Elliot, he was raised in a working-class family and wanted to pursue a career in ballet. Although his family wanted him to become a cattle and stock agent for their farm, his life eventually took another path. He found his passion in flowers, and decided to become a florist. His decision was a tough one in the beginning due to the stigma in those days that floral arranging was a "girl's career." Nevertheless, he went on to study flower arrangement at a four-year college, got a job as a florist at 19 and later became an examiner for students hoping to obtain diplomas in flower arrangement.
Before television was invented, early in his career he appeared on a radio talk show and became something of a local celebrity. His career then took off and he began doing floral arrangements for theaters and musicals. About the same time, he also began giving lectures and demonstrations in front of large audiences. These public speaking opportunities gave him more confidence, he said, and by way of talking to people he became more inspired himself, with entirely new ideas and layouts for more innovative flower arrangements coming to mind.
He arrives at each destination with no preconceived ideas and simply observes the space. Then after feeling some sort of inspiration, he proceeds to fill each unique space with always different patterns and motifs. At the Grand Inter-Continental hotel last winter, surprised guests gaped at the beauty and sheer creativity of golden cherubs and Christmas trees hanging from the ceiling in ethereal bliss.
His early inspiration to work with flowers began while growing up in New Zealand, where his family owned a 500 acre garden of delphinium near the city of Wellington. Close in proximity to Australia, the world's second largest grower of flowers behind the Netherlands, New Zealand has a naturally warm and versatile climate and is an ideal location for yielding different varieties year around. Mr. August fondly recalls roaming through the endless fields of the 2-meter high flowers as a boy. Enchanted by their pastel colors, he worked mostly with violet, mauve and lavender. Later, in what he says were "flamboyant designs," he experimented with bolder, stronger hues of red, purple and orange from flowers in South Africa, where he lived for 16 years. "I tried outrageous mixing and matching, and my style became bigger," Mr. August said. "I am always out to expand myself to get new ideas and to enrich my world."
His time spent in Greece afterwards promoted him to an international renown. "Greeks knew how to enjoy life. They drank 'ouzo' (a traditional alcoholic beverage) every day with just the right touch of food and conversation. It was a culture shock to me. There in Athens, everything just seemed to fall in place after an encounter with one important client." The mysterious, rich client flew Mr. August from continent to continent in a private jet to decorate the residences of Saudi Arabian royalty. But after an unfortunate incident involving a crook posing as his confident, Mr. August found himself in Australia with only $300 in his pocket. He then started anew and, strangely, says he is not embittered by the experience, commenting, "At 72, I can tell you this with confidence － money means nothing in life!"
In 1985 he began working as a creative consultant for world hotels. Speaking of his new job, he said with enthusiasm, "I like change, and it was like starting a new career. I've got so many new ideas and concepts that I can lie down anywhere at any time."
During his daily trips to the flower market, he realized that Koreans were big on flowers such as gerbera, roses, chrysanthemums, irises and frisia, but it is still difficult for him to define the Korean flower arrangement style. "Everything is the same! All copies of European magazines and the German florist Grego Lersch. It is a shame to see flowers sewn into a woven fabric, contorted into unnatural shapes, and twisted into hideous color schemes."
He also noticed that potted orchids are common at various functions in Korea, which to him just isn't visually pleasing. "I like Paphiopedilum or the 'slipper orchid' because it has leather-like petals. What I like about Korea is that I can go into any flower shop and this particular flower is wrapped beautifully. The combination of flowers and various wrapping materials is simply wonderful. You don't have to spend a lot of money, but a nice wrapping gives a lot of pleasure to both givers and recipients."
To decorate the hotel's interior this visit, he said he tried to create "uniformity" in the establishment with the central theme of "a profusion of flowers with a soft movement." Moreover, he wanted to give an illusion of spring using willow branch sprouts with freshly budding light green leaves. "Anything original can exist provided that it matches with its surroundings. I'm always looking for unusual places to put my flowers and draw the attention of the guest to places they wouldn't normally be so interested in. The arrangement should not spoil an environment, but instead complement the space with style and finesse."
Future plans for the septuagenarian artist include a TV show and writing a book based not just on flowers, but rather, his life with flowers. Proud as he was, he had to make a statement to define his object of lifetime passion: "Flowers are the prisms that color my views on life."
Mr. August will instruct four classes at the Silk Road of the Grand Inter-Continental Hotel in Seoul at 10 a.m. on March 28, April 4, 11 and 18. In each class he will create five sample flower arrangements and offer tips to those who would like to freshen up their homes this spring. The class fees are 30,000 won ($25) for one class (including fresh flowers and tea) or 100,000 won for all four classes.
For more information, contact Veronica Kang at 02-559-7752 (English service available).
by Ines Cho