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  • Lauren Rogers

Jessika Doyel: Giving Flowers a Second Chance

Photos by Suzi Sadler

When Jessika first moved from Tennessee to New York City, she came seeking the stage - hoping to better understand how theatre can transport the audience to see new realities. Nearly ten years later, Jessika has re-arranged this passion to help people find new eyes to see flowers in a similar way. Through her distinctive floral company, she gives flowers a second life and people a chance to perceive and embrace flowers as art given to us from nature, rather than as just pricy objects reserved for special events.

Jessika developed her floral arrangement skills through assisting at Kait Smith of Holdfast Flowers and at FlowerGirl NYC, before setting off on her own to explore ideas about what else flowers can be. Visualizing a new life for used flowers specifically, Jessika gives blossoms regeneration through the creation of art installations, mask making, and reconfigured arrangements.

Whether her creations are on your table or on your face, Jessika’s unique floral style will inspire you to embrace your own desire for whimsy and creativity. All the world’s a stage, so we might as well have something pretty for the set.

When did you begin to see your relationship with flowers more as a career rather than just a hobby?

It was probably in the Fall of 2015, or early 2016, that a life and career working with flowers was something I really wanted to throw my weight into. I had been working in theater for the previous 5-6 years and realized that I am most engaged creatively when I work with my hands and can feel what I’m doing. In 2015, I designed my first solo wedding and, in 2016, I was commissioned for flower crowns and masks, as well as having a residency with a theater director on Governor’s Island through Barton Booth. The days when I took off from my producing job to ferry out to Governor’s Island and forage for materials and sit in an old house making masks all day were the days I thought: I have to figure out a way to do this all the time.

How does your vast experience in performance art and theatre connect to how you present your floral designs?

One of my biggest curiosities as a designer is asking, “how do I transform a space (or a face) and make the familiar unfamiliar?” I remember this question being asked of me when I was in the theater world, because I think what many people are trying to do is challenge perspectives that are blanketly accepted. With flowers, I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to make people ask these broad existential questions (I do that enough when left to my own devices), but what I’m more interested in is creating spaces or pieces that allow people to experience something familiar in a new way. I’m very interested in the idea of portals, disguise, hidden secret things—all of which seem to me a bit theatrical in nature.

After 10 years living in NYC, how does your life in a place of concrete inform your expression with flowers?

Oh goodness. I have and yet haven’t really thought of this, especially how it directly informs my interests. I’ll start by saying that I am really drawn to the juxtaposition of opposites—but not opposites that are pushing against each other with sharp edges. I think that the concrete and swiftness of the city is able to highlight softness and elegant movement of flowers. I also daydream about the uncanny effect of flowers—what would it look like to do an installation around a construction site where people are working all day? What would it be like to install a small floral structure in the windows between subway cars? How would it look against the harshness of metal and dull oranges? I think that the city is a great canvas to build flowers upon—people delight in them more because of their absence.

For people who know nada about how to decorate with flowers, what are your go-to’s for simple decorating? Any flowers we should all be grabbing at our local bodegas to put on our small IKEA table?

I love to keep it simple and work with movement. People hate on carnations, but if you find the right color (sometimes a dusty rose) they can be beautiful. In terms of arranging, I always think that variation of height brings out different elements in the flowers. Go with the natural movement of the flower and play around with it—what happens if you twist the bloom upwards instead of it falling down with gravity? In terms of my go-to deli flowers, I’m a sucker for the greens—I love seeded eucalyptus and grasses—they change and dry out and will last for as long as you’ll let them stay.

How did growing up somewhere as lush as Tennessee (and the South in general) mold the way you view nature?

As a kid, I remember eating honeysuckle, making mudpies, crunching fall leaves, and standing ankle-deep in creeks—nature was something that was to be touched and interacted with, not just something nice to look at. I spent summers at my grandparents’ small farm in Arkansas, and I remember staying outdoors all day—naming bends in the creek and creating play-worlds with my sister. As a floral designer, I think growing up in Tennessee made me realize that nature is there to interact with, to play and shape and be repurposed. Also, I think growing up in a place that (at least used to) experience all seasons made me appreciate the changes in between seasons and admire the beauty that occurred when one season waned as another took over.

Your flower business has a certain product I’ve never seen any other florist tackle — floral masks. Where on earth did that inspiration come from? What kind of events are well suited for floral masks?

Oh gracious, this was complete happenstance. Back in 2014, I was interning at FlowerGirl on the Lower East Side and, a client asked us to make a mask for a Venetian Ball they were attending (only in NY). This was the first time I built a floral mask, but as I was putting it together, the combination of working with natural products in such a specific, detailed scale got me hooked. Besides the obvious (Halloween, masquerade balls, costume parties) masks can be used unconventionally in fashion to highlight other elements. Inherently masks disguise and sometime disfigure—and I’m curious about how this reconfiguration can highlight or be in conversation with other elements like clothes and body shape.

Floral masks are not something that people would jump to wearing everyday, there’s no immediate need associated, but I am curious to see if there are collaborations that could be explored within the visual art industry—fashion included. Also, I’d be interested to see what happened if these masks were incorporated outside of the “theatrical/art” realm just for enjoyment—like how Lewis Miller Design brings their Trash Can arrangements to the streets of NYC as an experiment of enjoyment and advertising.

Did your time working at a flower shop help you find your own unique style as an artist? Was it easier to learn on your own?

Working at a flower shop gave me a basic foundation of design—aka there are certain tips and rules that you can pull out of your pocket to help an arrangement come together. However, when it comes to really finding what I’m attracted to, I think I did that more on my own. I tend to fall in the trap of being a rule follower, and sometimes find myself creatively hitting a wall when I try to adhere to some sort of idea or expectation of “how to make something beautiful.” I think I’m drawn to a weird, kind of grotesque and otherworldly vibe—and when I allow myself to do that, that’s when I feel like I’m doing my best work—or at least the work that’s most representational of what I find curious and beautiful.

You say on your site that you want to give flowers a “second life in artwork and installation.” What does that look like? And how can we be a part of it?

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in the lives of objects or places—who owned these objects prior? How many people have lived in this apartment before me? What kind of conversations and heartbreaks and memories does this object hold? So often, flowers are privy to specific moments in time—weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, attempted apologies—and I’m curious about how instead of throwing flowers away after these events, they can be repurposed in a new way. Last summer, Saipua was kind enough to let me load out a wedding at the Wythe Hotel and use the materials to create the masks that are featured in a photoshoot I did with Suzi Sadler. When I was making these masks, I thought—these were just at a celebration of someone’s life—their families and friends were there, these flowers were in the presence of so many conversations and congratulations—how can that be taken into account when I create a new story with these masks? I love the idea that the materials I use can carry a narrative before I even begin working with them.

Also, in the floral industry there’s so much waste of materials, flowers that are perfectly beautiful and useful are tossed and end up just rotting with garbage instead of being composted (Saipua has a great program to offset this waste). I’m curious in being a part of the narrative of flower materials and also interested in figuring out how to make this narrative more full-circle—composting and partnering with other florists and floral farms to ensure that the materials we work with are returning back to the source and fueling future endeavors. Environmental impact aside, it’s just more enjoyable to think that the materials we’re using in the floral industry contain memories and are passed from one hand to another. In terms of being involved, I’m still in the early stages of figuring out how using second-hand materials can be managed and systematized.

However, if you have events in NYC and are looking to donate second-hand florals, I’d love to be in touch (which you can do through my site). If you’re into the spirit of this project and not NYC based, there are so many organizations that use second-hand flowers and repurpose them in arrangements for hospitals and hospice patients if you’re interested in giving your flowers a second life—I’m not sure about the ending place of these arrangements, but materials can always be repurposed.

In a very minimalist-trending culture, Jessika’s floral designs remind us how much we as humans crave and need joy – Bright, zany colors! Throwing a party! Wearing a mask made out of thistles and irises!

After all the grind and grit that fuel our ambition, we can often forget the virtue of taking pleasure in creation. The earth is a gift, a reflection of that which is greater than ourselves. When lived with the right perspective, life can be enjoyed as a party we are all invited to attend. Jessika invites us to join in, one flower at a time.

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