Within the art of floral arranging there’s traditional Japanese Ikebana, classic fresh and blooming bouquets, and then there’s Chloe Berlin, a Brooklyn-based artist whose work stretches from mini arrangements to large-scale sculptures and floral wall installations that sometimes don’t include any live flowers at all. Her studio—which employs dried and fresh flowers, branches, found objects, wire and string—is equal parts natural and urban, chaotic and beautiful. This contradiction, as well as the variegated materials, offers a fresh approach to the category.
In the artist’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the minimal, white-walled space offers a glimpse of Berlin’s meditative practice which started about two years ago. “I began my career in branding and innovations,” she says, but one day “I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and various autoimmune diseases.” The diagnosis changed Berlin’s trajectory, pivoting her away from her career and toward wellness when traditional medicine fell short. Eventually, that path led into meditation and flowers.
“I started playing with flowers and I was like, ‘you know, this is something that I’m really passionate about.’ I’m not really seeing the style of work that I’m doing out there. For me, it needs to be more than just a flower arrangement—there has to be a story behind it; there has to be meaning,” Berlin says.
The artist’s large-scale arrangements in her commissioned and installation works have an abundance of meaning, as they overflow with juxtaposition and symbolic elements. Some of them contain unconventional florals like weeds or kumquat branches, but all burst with a certain sense of drama and volume. Wire twists and turns high above the arrangement, mimicking the organic movement of vines. Drooping flowers evoke a notion of romantic decay. Large dead branches stick out as if reaching above and through the vase. The design invites viewers to gaze at it as if it’s a painting with various hidden elements.
“It’s a lot about tapping into that creative flow state and that meditation style of work and pulling from those Ikebana philosophies. It was really just about studying the forms, the shapes, the ways the flowers wanted to be displayed, foraging for flowers that weren’t normally put into a vase, using a lot of weeds. With my vessels, they’re all sourced vintage because that’s super-important,” the artist tells us. Berlin’s process begins with collecting flowers, which Berlin does based on availability. “In the summer, I love to go to the Union Square farmers market, because those will all come in local. I’m going to start working with more farms this summer, and then I sometimes forage around Brooklyn. I’ll be that crazy lady with the clippers on the street.”
In the winter, Berlin will work with dried flowers in addition to whatever scraps she saved from previous projects (which is all of them). Many of these leftover florals end up as mini arrangements or what she calls Mini Moments. “A big thing is resourcefulness and sustainability,” she continues. Sometimes it’s this lack of florals that conveys more than fresh blooms.
A blend of wire and stems offers empty space and a thoughtful contrast between nature and the metropolitan, an exploration that runs throughout Berlin’s work. “That idea is really about understanding nature and living with nature,” she tells us. “When we’re in New York, it’s so fast-paced. It’s this concrete jungle and we’ve built this world that has so many sharp lines and clean slates and it’s very harsh. It doesn’t have those organic happenstances that form within nature. I think it’s about figuring out how, as a society, we can continue to evolve with nature and appreciate the nature that we do have.”
“So much of my work is about that balance and even when you look at it, it’s not always symmetrical. There are a lot of imperfections,” Berlin says. As her work bursts with natural materials, discarded city objects blend into the floral background. The unity is often contradictory—and messy—and that is precisely the point.
Every so often, Berlin invites others into her studio to explore this dynamic themselves. She hosts Nature Play workshops, which are more than a class on flower arrangement. The artist explains, it “is all about this idea of play, and that’s a lot of the energy that I bring toward the work that I’m making.” Spontaneous and joyous, the workshop, as well as Berlin’s floral art as a whole, seeks a way to connect with the self and the world around.
Hero image courtesy of Alec Banks