Charleston-based artist Lulie Wallace paints bold bouquets, opening up a world of entrepreneurial adventures
Anthropologie understands the allure of flowers. The creative home and fashion emporium with locations across North America and the U.K. has been reviving interest in botanically-themed art by cultivating the work of contemporary, nature-centric women—young artists who, in one way or another, are continuing a long tradition that includes Dutch master Rachel Ruysch’s ravishing, early 18th-century insect-bedecked floral still lifes and Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell’s colorful poppies. Among the new generation is Charleston, South Carolina’s Lulie Wallace, a painter known for vibrant color combinations, a keen sense of pattern, and stylized blossoms juxtaposed with stripes and geometrics.
National attention from design blogs, notably Grace Bonney’s highly influential Design*Sponge, put Wallace on the radar of Anthropologie and sister store Urban Outfitters, the artist says. First, Urban Outfitters emailed with a proposal to reproduce and sell two of her paintings as large-scale murals. Soon after, Anthro (fans’ preferred name for the retailer) made an offer to buy a selection of her original works for the store’s online House & Home department. Having previously seen fellow Southern painters including Shelley Hesse and Rebecca Rebouche collaborate with Anthro, it was a wish fulfilled for Wallace when she spied her own acrylic on birch pieces in the July 2012 catalogue.
Her latest venture is a fabric collection. The idea came about serendipitously when Charleston-based Stitch, the graphic design team responsible for the artist’s website, requested she paint some of her signature blooms isolated on a clean white background. “I had a great time arranging the flowers within new parameters. The end result looked a lot like printed fabric, so I thought I was on to something,” Wallace explains, adding that although she is associated with florals, the collection will also feature complementary geometrics. And she is committed to manufacturing the line in the U.S., specifically the South.
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, Wallace was connected to nature—her grandfather lovingly tended his own rose garden and kept her grandmother surrounded by fragrant, freshly cut stems—but she really began to focus on flowers during her last semester at the College of Charleston as she completed her BFA in painting. While she acknowledges downtown Charleston’s famous gardens, she points out that many are ensconced behind those iconic ornamental iron gates—in short, not typically open to the public. Interestingly, local weddings—gorgeous Lowcountry happenings done up by Tara Guérard Soirée and other designers—are what opened her eyes to the creative possibilities of flowers.
“Charleston is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the U.S. There’s always an inspirational flower-filled event taking place around the corner,” Wallace observes. With her enthusiasm for weddings, it’s not surprising that she enjoys commissions to paint bridal bouquets. Working on a piece imbued with such personal meaning for the client is gratifying, she notes, and, because she still comes across less familiar flowers, the projects offer an opportunity to expand her floral repertoire.
When she feels the need for an artistic critique, all Wallace has to do is pop out of her private studio at Charleston’s nonprofit Redux Contemporary Art Center. Home to roughly 30 other diverse artists, Redux is part of Charleston’s second artistic renaissance. It was founded in 2002 by recent College of Charleston grads with a mission to provide emerging artists better opportunities to create and exhibit their work.
At the time of her own graduation, Wallace was skeptical she could earn a living as an artist. In fact, she allowed herself just three months to gauge the public interest in her paintings; if she received a positive response, she told herself, she would forge on. Today, as the deft mixes of chartreuse, lavender, persimmon, and gray in her graphic bouquets are pinned across Pinterest boards and blogged and re-blogged on Tumblr pages, she feels she chose the right path.
Lulie’s Floral Favorites:
flower: What’s your favorite garden anywhere in the world?
Lulie Wallace: Millennium Park right smack dab in the middle of Chicago. It has unusual flora and a strange desert-like quality that I find so alluring.
Favorite garden in Georgia?
My father-in-law’s. Flowers, fruits, and veggies all grown on a piece of land about a mile from his house. When I’m home I like to see what he’s up to.
Favorite wedding flowers?
I carried a big, fat bundle of peonies and wore a peony in my hair for my 2010 reception.
Second favorite flower?
Funky, crazy orchids. I’m drawn to exotic things and potted orchids last and last.
Earliest flower-related memory?
The smell of homegrown roses wafting through my grandparents’ house and the stems my grandfather wrapped in cold paper towels for me to carry home.
Lulie’s designs for her new fabric line at Stitch