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The Bandit Beautifying the Streets of New York, One Flower at a Time

The Bandit Beautifying the Streets of New York, One Flower at a Time

A new book celebrates the space where photography, street art, and floral design mingle and meet.
Rockefeller Center February 12, 2021 © Irini Arakas Greenbaum

Under the cover of night in October 2016, floral designer Lewis Miller and his team crept across the streets of New York and stole into Central Park, the morning dew wet and chilly under their footfalls. They found their destination — the John Lennon Memorial — and placed more than 2,000 brightly colored flowers from the previous evening’s event in a psychedelic halo around the word “IMAGINE.”

Like all great public artists working without permits, Lewis’s act of “vandalism” only made the city all the more beautiful. Social media, the ultimate court of public opinion, quickly weighed in: selfies galore and smiles abound, the most jaded New Yorkers pleasantly surprised by this windfall of Day-Glo pink, purple, yellow, and orange dahlias and carnations in a simple yet tender gift to the city.

W 100th Street / West End Avenue July 24, 2019 © Irini Arakas Greenbaum
Valentine’s Day W 14th Street / 6th Avenue February 14, 2018 © Irini Arakas Greenbaum

The response affirmed Miller’s instinct and over the past five years the “Flower Bandit” has transformed the city’s landscape into a magnificent cornucopia of flora, most notably during lockdown when the city needed it most. Since that first venture into Central Park, Miller’s imagination has bloomed, creating more than 90 installations all over town — turning trash bins into resplendent urns, public sculptures into living works of art, and bus shelters into tropical paradise.

Forget Me Nots

Lewis Miller describes each artwork as a “Flower Flash,” a term that is at once a noun, a verb, and an adjective. “It is visceral, imperfect, and rambunctious, but confident,” Miller writes in the new book, Flower Flash. “It relies on a vague plan that might be modified on-site and is only successful if attuned to the surroundings and the moment. It is the polar opposite of designing a posh event.”

Alice in Wonderland Central Park November 1, 2016. © Jess Rizzuti

Wild and free, these exuberant displays of floral bliss are the ultimate manifestation of the creative impulse, embracing improvisation, spontaneity, and speed in a grand gesture of joy and goodwill. Although Miller admits he was initially reluctant to call himself an artist, the public response helped him realize that street art may be “the most populist form of contemporary art”.

Possessed with the ability to imagine a world where art became an experience rather than a commodity, Miller’s Flower Flashes offer a moment to stop and smell the roses as we rush along the streets — a poignant reminder of staying present and in the moment. Photography then preserves and amplifies their effect, transforming the fragile, short lives fresh-cut flower into a timeless splendid being.

St. James’ Church E 71st Street / Madison Avenue September 17, 2019 © Irini Arakas Greenbaum
Fulton Street / S Portland Avenue June 16, 2020. © Irini Arakas Greenbaum

Photography provides the public with the ability to interact and engage, using social media to spread love and manifest Miller’s deepest yearnings. “I have been chasing beauty my whole life. As a kid growing up in central California, and even as an adult, I’ve never quite fit in. Be it Modesto or Manhattan, I’m an introvert who was lousy at sports and awkward at social interactions. Flowers have always been my sanctuary,” he writes in the book.

But it’s not enough to simply find a job in the industry and service other people’s whims. Like all great artist’s Miller is possessed by a need to create and share his vision with the world. “When pressed to define my own vision, a few words come to mind: Abundance. Contrast. Joy. Folly. Energy,” he writes. “Flowers are a medium like no other. They exist to be beautiful, to attract butterflies and bees. It’s a simple but astounding life’s mission.” One that we could all learn a little something from.

By Miss Rosen

Flower Flash is published by Monacelli Press, $55.00.

Spring Street / Mulberry Street April 24, 2021 © Irini Arakas Greenbaum

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