A space for nature, sculpted from paper

Two years ago, artist Caroline Byrne’s paper botanical sculptures were a lockdown project. Today they are bringing the joy of nature to city dwellers.
A black Canon printer on a coffee table, with a printout of two purple starburst shapes sat on its tray. It is in what looks like a living room space, with plants and comfortable looking furnishings in the background.

Written by Constanze Bauer

Canon EMEA Communications Specialist

The way we feel about the space around us fundamentally shifted when lockdowns began. Our couches became offices, our kitchens turned into makeshift classrooms and our homes were simultaneously a source of safety and frustration – too full, or too empty, or trying to be everything all at once. Thankfully, we are all slowly settling back into a semblance of normality, but our relationships with familiar places are changed. Even beyond the physical and mental shifts that Covid required of us, we are still actively seeking out places and spaces that soothe us.

But what if exploring and transforming spaces is what you do for a living? Caroline Byrne, a London-based installation and display artist, works for luxury brand clients to build sets and displays for their products, turning all sorts of spaces into worlds of colour, sculpture and surprise. Investigating and understanding each space she works with forms a core part of her practice and every installation she creates directly responds to its uniqueness. So, when space suddenly became limited, it moved her to go back to basics, working with the simplicity of paper and the shapes and colours of nature. “I’ve always liked making colourful things and something that almost takes on a life and personality of its own,” she explains. “So, I kind of felt like plants had their own personality.” These plants became ‘Brazen Botany’ – unapologetically bold, eclectic, elegant and fun, they are a sculptural take on the organic, combining Caroline’s love of clean graphic lines and confident colours with shapes and patterns from nature. “I began making them and then lockdown just didn’t seem to end,” she laughs. “So, I suddenly had that luxury of time, something I wouldn’t normally have because a client project would come in and I’d have forgotten about them and moved on.” Through the necessity of lockdown, her plants became a handmade business and before she knew it, Brazen Botany became beloved of interior designers, amateur and professional alike.

Artist Caroline Byrne smiles as she looks at the oversized blue and red paper flower sculptures that she holds. She has long blonde tightly curly hair and is wearing a black sweater.

“When you see something like this it takes you out of the city for a second.”

Everything Caroline creates begins as a series of seemingly random photographs, a bank of textures, colour combinations and shapes in nature that have caught her eye while going about her daily business. These are the base elements for the ideas that come to life in Caroline’s imagination when she sees the final location for her sculpture. “I always start with the form and the shape of something, how it’s going to interact and take up space, how well it will work in a space,” she explains of her process. “And then colour comes afterwards. I like to have time to be playful with different ideas and different colour combinations.” She takes pictures of where the pieces will eventually sit so that she can “draw into the photos”, understanding how the completed concept would look in the available space.

Of course, how each piece looks naturally goes hand in hand with how it makes people feel and it’s been a source of incredible joy for Caroline to see photographs of her smaller works from Brazen Botany in situ in customer’s homes. There’s a certain surreal quality in seeing these artworks, created by hand in her north London studio, occupying someone else’s beloved personal space (“The creativity! How people interact with my work and how it takes a new life in their homes, I love it.”). However, this sense of entering the delicate personal worlds of others is amplified in the commission that she has recently undertaken in partnership with Canon at London’s The Self Space.

Artist Caroline Byrne sits on a bench outside the ‘shop front’ of Self Space. Behind her in the window are her beautiful red and blue plant sculptures.
Close up detail of the leaves of Caroline’s purple and blue plant sculptures.

With the tagline of “everyday mental maintenance”, The Self Space believes that tending to our mental health is an essential part of everyday life. So, they want to make it as easy as possible by getting rid of the known barriers to access. In part, they do this through practical means, such as removing waiting lists and unnecessary paperwork. But they also offer a place that is warm and inviting – and stylish. The interior is more like a comfortable, trendy boutique than a place of therapy and Caroline’s botanical sculptures sit perfectly within such a setting. They are, of course, beautiful objects in a stylish environment, but they also serve as a talking point, an ice breaker, at a time when words can be difficult. And, as Caroline acknowledges, there is also something inherently soothing and joyful in finding the colours of nature in unexpected places. “It’s refreshing,” she says. “When you see something like this it takes you out of the city for a second. People are generally quite surprised and unexpectedly happy because the colours of the work are quite joyful.”

For the installations at The Self Space, Caroline is creating each paper sculpture using Canon Premium Fine Art Rough paper, which she scores, folds, cuts, glues and assembles into the shape of huge plants by hand. Her process is steeped in ancient traditions of papercraft but for this commission she has an extra technological edge provided by the depth and colour given to her bespoke patterns when printed using the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300. Of course, the critical ingredient of each piece is time. It is impossible to rush such artworks, which require patience and a lightness of touch. In this way, it feels gentle and appropriate to the work of The Self Space, where sensitivity is everything. It is an organisation that has a clear understanding of the impact that aesthetics can have on the way therapists and counsellors work with their clients. In this respect, bringing her work to such a place resonates deeply with Caroline and she was thrilled to be able to install these sculptures, which will be on display throughout the early part of 2023.

You can see more of Caroline’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Constanze Bauer Canon EMEA Communications Specialist

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