We make our way to the formidable white entrance of the Galeria Melissa for the unveiling of Zoe Bradley’s Neon Garden. What greets us is a breathtaking Lotus Flower, suspended amidst a visceral kaleidoscopic film. Part retail space — part gallery; the Galeria Melissa has always been a champion for both innovative artists and innovative footwear. As we delve deeper into the Neon Garden, we discover how Zoe has completely and utterly transformed the space into a psychedelic journey of colossal flowers — enveloping viewers in stunning hues of Fuchsia, Red, and Deep Plums. At the centre of it all is a slowly rotating Lotus Flower, a testament to Zoe Bradley’s mathematical precision in creating the paper sculptures that have become her signature.
We sat down with the enigmatic Zoe to discuss the many experiences that have informed her art, including working with the late, great Alexander McQueen and her infamous pleated paper dress with Michiko Koshino that paved the way for her eventual journey into exploring Paper sculpture. Alternating, between designing some of the most prestigious window displays to pushing the boundaries of sculpture, Zoe is not just a sculptor, but one of undeniable unique significance to the creative scene in London.
Talk us through your first experiences with paper sculpture? Why did you choose this medium to express your art, and why flowers in particular?
During my time with Alexander McQueen I had been introduced to working with non-conventional materials in a fashion sense and paper was something that I was keen to explore further. The first ‘fashion’ piece I created in paper was a pleated dress for the label Michiko Koshino in 2005. After this experience, I knew that paper gave me the texture, form, and the immediate silhouette that I was looking for in my work. Gradually, the commissions grew into larger installations and my love of flowers has become a huge part of my vocabulary — as my mother and grandfather were keen gardeners.
Your background is actually on Fashion design? What made you decide to move from fashion design to paper sculpture?
Whilst I was studying Fashion design, I was drawn to finding a material that would hold its silhouette. I found lots of ways to back fabrics so they behaved in a ridged form, but now I work with a metallic material that looks like silk but is paper. I work like a tailor just using paper: folding, pleating, curling, scoring, and stitching the material. I am inspired by fashion and couture but the end result is sculpture, as there are no restrictions unlike fashion design.
Back in 1997 you have worked with the late great Alexander McQueen on the showpieces for his 1999 Spring Summer Ready-to-wear collection. What was this experience like?
My experience of working as a graduate with McQueen was a fundamental part of my learning. It was an incredible opportunity to work with a visionary such as McQueen. It was a very inspiring time especially working on Show No: 13, which is when the fashion label was at its most experimental with both materials and ideas. I found myself responsible for executing many showpieces that have become iconic images of the label today.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you usually get the inspiration for your work?
It will start with a client coming to me with an idea to create a piece of sculpture. It usually is to add a focal point to a luxury product launch, or it can be as diverse as creating an art piece for a hotel foyer, or a series of windows for a store or a shopping mall. When I start collecting ideas they come from everywhere; it can be a print I see on a vintage seed packet, a piece of theatre, a sculpture, and these all filter down into one mood. I try to visit the space and get a feeling for the silhouette of the sculpture, and sketch out ideas that will work in the space. I work with my team on story boarding visuals, colour palettes, silhouettes and textures of papers. The initial process can start quite organic, but it quickly becomes more mathematical with scale plans, interpreting window sizes from architectural drawings. Then my team and I look at the process of creating the paper textile to form the right silhouette. For example: if it is flowers, we then go into a sample stage where shapes are created that can have multiple layers and components. All are created by hand, scored, moulded, and glued in many processes. By the time it comes to installation it can feel like we have literally grown the flowers from seeds!
Some of your previous exhibitions include Crafted at The Royal Academy of Arts, Christopher Henry, the Burlington Arcade and the Rio Olympics. As an artist, how do you go about finding the right creative partners?
The business has grown very organically. I like the challenge of new briefs as they bring new opportunities and new processes to overcome, which is exciting and helps you grow.
What has it been like collaborating with the Galeria Melissa on NEON Garden? How do you think your exhibition shares the spirit of their AW17 Collection – FLYGRL?
Collaborating with Galeria Melissa has been great. The footwear designs are innovative and the AW17 FLYGRL footwear and accessories collection champions femininity, which is a key message of Neon Garden.
What is next for Zoe Bradley? Any exciting news for 2017?
My aim for the future is to expand the brand by adding products to our current tailor-made design service. We are in the process of seeking out companies to partner with in order to diversify into producing paper art pieces for the home; whether that’s luxury stationery, wallpaper, lighting, one-off prints, or floral frames.
Finally, in what ways do you think creators like yourself are changing the face of the London art scene?
I consider it a great opportunity to take contemporary paper art installations outside the usual gallery walls and into a wider audience. My work has taken me all over the world and it has been rewarding to see how my paper sculptures breath new life into different environments and cultures worldwide.
Words by Hannah Tan