Arts / Museums

The Flower Guy Tells All

New York Street Artist Turns Into an Unlikely Fashion Star — and Now He’s Having a Texas Moment

BY // 03.01.18

Like a tiny bud blossoming into a vibrant bloom, the smallest act can have the power to surprise, inspire, and add beauty to the world. But no one was more surprised than contemporary artist Michael De Feo when the fashion world embraced his painting over their advertisements in New York City bus stops. (Although, when you look at his signature floral embellishments, you’ll see why it would be impossible to be mad).

Since the fashion seed was planted, De Feo has collaborated with top brands like Neiman Marcus, Christian Louboutin, and J. Crew. This month, he comes to Dallas for the Dallas Museum of Art’s signature fundraiser, Art in Bloom 2018: The Power of Flowers. Here, we catch up on all things floral and fashionable with “the flower guy” himself:

PaperCity: You fully embrace your nickname, “the flower guy.” How did flowers become your favorite subjects?

Flowers as a focus came about somewhat accidentally. Back in 1993, I was illustrating a series of childlike images on paper with brush and paint, and this one flower stood out from all the rest. It had this presence and strength that I couldn’t ignore. I made a silk screen out of it and rather quickly had piles of flower prints in a rainbow of colors.

I was already using the streets of New York as a canvas for my work so I decided to share the flowers with my beloved city by pasting them to walls. It felt really good and I wanted to do it more and more. Over the years, the flower project has taken on many different evolutions and iterations and continues to nourish me.

PC: Whether it’s a streetlamp or a fashion advertisement, are there certain things you look for or that jump out at you when you selecting a “canvas” for your work?

It’s something I feel inside. When I know, I know.

PC: Street art has the benefit of being exposed to more people than more traditional art. What are some of your favorite reactions you’ve seen to you work?

I typically don’t stick around after installing something on the streets so I don’t get to experience many of the reactions. While installing, however, I do see a lot of smiles. Instagram plays a critical role in allowing me to see reactions from people who come across my work on the streets or at galleries. Sharing my work on Instagram (@theflowerguy) has led to many interesting projects.

PC: The models in many of your paintings over fashion photography almost appear to be hiding behind the flowers. Do you seek to comment on the roles fashion and beauty play in society with your work?

I like that my work to sparks conversations about fashion and beauty, but for me what I like best is the interaction my work has with the images. I like to tamper with things and to inject a sense of whimsy with my work. I’ve always found that you can create more change and conversation with a gentle approach much more than clobbering people over the head. I hope that’s the part that shines through for those who see my paintings.

PC: What has been the most surprising aspect about working with major fashion brands?

I kind of figured I’d turn some heads but I didn’t really consider how much attention my work would get. It’s very exciting and a great honor when artists, brands or publications give me positive feedback or sometimes invite me to collaborate.

PC: There is such a rich history of symbolism behind flowers – especially when given as gifts. Do you send/give flowers often and, if so, do you have a go-to arrangement?

The very first bouquet I ever gifted to someone was a bunch of crocuses and daffodils that I pulled from the front lawn of my childhood home and presented to my Mom while she cooked for us. Today, I gift flowers all the time and nearly always have a bouquet of fresh flowers in our home.

PC: Do you have a favorite flower?

It’s impossible to pick just one.

PC: Favorite smell?

 My favorite smells are probably food-related. I love to travel and often travel for my work. When I travel, I like to eat and experience the food and culture of the country I am in. Those smells are the ones that stay with me and when I smell them again, in a different place, they bring me back to the moment when I first experienced them.

PC: Favorite color?

I truly love color. When I’m painting on a fashion ad, I often look to the ad itself for color inspiration.. I really enjoy working with color, but don’t have a favorite single color.

PC: Favorite place to be outdoors?

Anywhere there’s sunshine and a beach.

 PC: Guests at this year’s Art in Bloom fundraiser will have an opportunity to honor the “flower who empowered” them. Who is yours and why?

 My flower is my daughter, Marianna. I relish being a dad and having this privilege of seeing the world through her eyes.

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