Five-Minute Pow-Wow: David Leaser Talks Flowers & Art
Two things we love: bright, bold flowers and exquisite, museum-quality art. So we were more than thrilled to sit down with artist David Leaser whose innovative techniques produce museum archive quality pieces and bring a whole new (wildly detailed) life to flowers.
Rue La La: In our Rue Style Report: Brights For The Home Boutique, we’re featuring your limited-edition dramatic botanicals. What’s the background for these pieces?
David: I had just finished work on the book, “Tropical Gardens of Hawaii,” and was visiting the Huntington Library and museum in California. They were exhibiting a collection of artwork from Frederic Church, one of my favorite painters from the 19th century. Many of the works featured his trip to the Amazon and Andes in Ecuador. When I left the exhibit, I started thinking, “Maybe I should go to South America and retrace Frederic Church’s footsteps.”
Rue La La: And did you actually go?
David: I hopped on a plane and went to Ecuador. When I was deep in the Amazon, I started taking primitive photos of the small flowers on the floor of the rainforest. I was struck by these little ecosystems. When I came back to Los Angeles, I tried to recreate this “bees-eye” view. After a lot of trial and error, I was able to perfect my craft to create highly detailed images.
Rue La La: What type of room do you envision these botanical pieces in?
David: Botanicals have universal appeal for men and women – they are timeless and bring joy. Margaret Russell, editor for Architectural Digest, frequently talks about the importance of flowers in interior design. The Nightflowers Collection brings flowers into the home or office even on the cloudiest cold days. I think you would want to hang this artwork in a prominent place where visitors can enjoy the beauty of nature and see the incredible detail in these flowers. (That said, my wife hung “Serenity” in our little girl’s room.)
Rue La La: How do you get your pieces so incredibly detailed?
David: I use a number of cutting-edge technologies. I wanted to create images that show you nature like you’ve never seen it before, so I spent nearly a year researching technology to be able to create this level of detail. I had to create my own process using a variety of technologies, including imaging equipment used by NASA on Mars.
Rue La La: What do your processes actually entail?
David: I start by selecting the flower for the image. I sometimes look through hundreds of flowers to find the one that will make the shot. I audition them, staring closely to see which one has the most personality. Then, I need to work quickly because some flowers are so perishable, they will wither within an hour.
I spend weeks going through every pixel in the shot, making sure the sharpness, color, and contrast are how I envision them. I use a digital paintbrush to work on the images, but I like to keep the flaws in the flowers. Although these are Hollywood close-ups, everyone has his or her flaws. I think when you see the edges of the image, “Nightstar,” you understand what I mean. The image is very symmetrical, but look closely and you can see the personality in the flower.
The finished images are then gicléed onto archival canvas that has been gessoed to make it smooth and lustrous. Then they are sprayed with UV protector. The images are extremely sharp, and my process is being called dettagli (Italian for “detail”).
Rue La La: Your work is museum archive quality (and we can tell!) – can you explain to Members what that means?
David: We start with the highest-quality archival canvas and apply a coat of gesso to make the surface smooth and luminous. Archival inks are then gicléed onto the canvas and coated with a UV coating to protect against light damage. The canvas is hand-stretched and sent to artisans who create custom frames for each piece using sustainable woods. We frame all our artwork with museum-style floating frames. The framing does not require glass, so you can see the artwork up close and personal without any barriers or glare.
Rue La La: Where do you find inspiration for your artwork?
David: I live in Southern California, so we can grow an incredible variety of plants. I regularly visit the Los Angeles Flower Mart and local orchid shows, and I buy plants sight unseen in mail-order catalogs for our greenhouse and backyard. We also have good friends at Cal-Orchid Nursery who allow me to photograph their rare, exotic collection. They have an amazing greenhouse – I could spend all day there. Actually, my wife and I have spent all day there! Botanical gardens are also a great inspiration to me.
Rue La La: What is your absolute favorite piece of art in your own home?
David: Of course, it changes, but I am always drawn to a piece with complexity – art with a story to tell. “Flaming Parrot” has a sad/happy story to tell. It is a stunning yellow and red parrot tulip that was in a vase in our home, fully in the prime of its bloom.
Rue La La: What’s the story behind this piece?
David: I took the red parrot tulip to my studio, but within less than an hour, it has started to decline. The petals began to wilt and brown on the edges. I had to work quickly. I finished the shoot and went to lunch. I was planning to re-shoot the flower again, but when I returned to the studio, the moment was lost: the petals had fallen from the flower. When you look at “Flaming Parrot,” you see a beautiful tulip, but look more closely and you will see tiny signs that show how fleeting life is. I think that makes the piece especially interesting.
Rue La La: We look at art as investment pieces – when you’re shopping for yourself, are there elements that you always look for?
David: I go by my first impression: Does it excite me? Does it change or challenge my perceptions? Then I ask myself: “Will I enjoy seeing this every day or will I get tired of it?” I look for pieces that tell a story. I personally only collect artwork that’s part of a limited edition – it’s the best way to ensure appreciation. That is why the artwork in the Nightflowers Collection is strictly limited and includes a certificate of authenticity and serial number plate.
Rue La La: How has this changed how you look at nature?
David: Since I began this collection, I look at flowers in a different way. I now appreciate small, seemingly insignificant flowers because of the complexity they reveal up close. When you see one of the Nightflowers pieces on your wall, you will look at nature differently, I promise you.
Our Rue Style Report: Brights For The Home Boutique is now open.