Known for his elaborate and detailed sculptural arrangements, floral artist Noah Harders finds inspiration in the natural patterns and deep-hued blossoms of his native Waikapū, Maui.
Inherent in Harders’ work is a deep sense of appreciation and enchantment for the natural world that colored his upbringing. His moody and fantastical pieces are the focus of Moemoeā, an upcoming exhibition with the Honolulu Museum of Art and Harders’ first solo show. It’ll be a showcase of Harders’ oeuvre, a merging of the natural with the fantastical. Here, Harders delves into his creative inspirations and current obsessions.
What creative rituals do you have before, while, or after working?
Every piece is a new journey for me, but the process seems to remain the same throughout each one. I start off on an adventure with no intentions or preconceived ideas. Most times when something presents itself to me, I will pick a few materials to play around with patterns and different possibilities. Should it be viable for my creations, I will return and ask permission to harvest as many as I think the plants can afford to give me, I never like to take too much. I Wouldn’t dare throw off the natural balance of life.
After that the real fun begins, my favorite part, the dissection and dismembering. It makes me feel like a mad scientist when I bust out the Xacto blades and tweezers. Each piece is organized by shape, size, and color so I have a better idea of what kind of patterns I can make. And then I sit there, in one spot, for hours on end until the piece is finished. It’s a true test of my patience and sanity, but I am often sucked into a time warp and next thing I know 5 hours have passed.
After the mask is finished, it’s on to making the jewelry elements and pretending I know what I’m doing with makeup for the portrait (haha!). The alter ego comes out during my self-portrait sessions. A different person emerges, the poses and attitude become very….extra.
When I’m done with the piece and photographs, I’ll often research the material on hand to see if there’re any cool facts or stories associated with it. More often than not, the stories or meanings I find relate to my life somehow. I think that’s pretty cool. The universe presents these materials to me when I least expect them and need them the most.
Where’s the strangest place you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from all around me. Literally everything I see sparks some kind of idea for me. Oddly enough, I find a lot of inspiration in abandoned buildings and, more generally, abandoned things. So yeah, basically trash.
Something inside of me wants to give that place or thing a new life. In abandoned places I often imagine what kind of creature would inhabit that space, a creature made up of plants and materials found there. With the trash, I’m super into reusing, recycling, and reimagining everyday items into something out of a fantasy film. I tend to look at things less as a whole, and more as the hundreds of tiny individual pieces that make up the entire object.
If you weren’t a floral artist, what would you be?
If floral art never found me, I would most likely be a nature photographer. My love for macro plant and animal photography is really where all of this crazy tedious art I do now stemmed from. I used to take my old camera and a cheap macro lens with me everywhere and try to get pictures of the little hairs on bees, or the near microscopic insects that lived in flowers. Nature puts me in a state of awe every single day, and I have always wanted to be a part of capturing the mind-blowing aspects of this world that surrounds us.
What’s on your bedside table?
My couch is currently my bed — even though there’s a brand-new bed in my bedroom! So, my bedside table is more so my coffee table. But there are lots of snacks and lots of candles.
There’s also usually my laptop, piles of papers, and notebooks for my everyday job as a florist because I work on my couch until I fall asleep. I do have a brand-new desk and office chair but why use that when I can work, eat, and sleep on the same couch? Oh, and lots of receipts, cause I like to pretend that I’m actually going to organize them one day.
What is something you have on loop right now?
To be completely honest, “PURE/HONEY” by Beyoncé on the new Renaissance album. I haven’t had an actual day off in several months (that awesome life as a full time artist trying to make it in this world), and there is a line in the song that goes “Four, three, too fuckin’ busy.” It makes me laugh every single time because that is my current situation: just too damn busy for anything other than work.
Another one is “Daydream” by Lily Meola. “It ain’t big enough if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you.” I heard this song recently after working tirelessly on my first big solo museum show that I had titled “Moemoeā,” which means to dream. Everything Lily says in her song resonated with me so deeply. It brought me to tears the first time I heard it because it’s so true: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Yes, it might be hard and it might be scary, but the passion will always shine and carry you through. “Why save it for sleep when you could be living your daydream.”
What scent reminds you of home?
Ginger flowers, puakenikeni, ylang ylang, plumeria, mock orange blossoms. All the pua scents. They’re all around me in Waikapū, and when they are in season the wind up here blows them all right into my house. It’s so comforting and refreshing. Right now, the mock orange is going off and I can smell it all day and night. Even blindfolded I’d know exactly where I was just by following that scent.
See more of Harders’ work in his debut solo exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Moemoeā will be on view November 3, 2022 to July 27, 2023.
5 Musings of the Month
“‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings.” This is kind of a constant for me. This book is always out on my coffee table or dining table, and I often flip to the index in the back to look up key words that pertain to my work or feelings that day. I think the ‘Ōlelo No‘eau give me a different outlook on a situation or idea that I may not have previously considered. Sometimes it’s nice to look at things from a poetic viewpoint because I can get too literal with it and forget that life is a riddle.
Self care isn’t selfish, it’s essential. There wouldn’t be any you, or any of the wonderful things you put into the world if you weren’t connected with yourself. You can’t be authentically you, the best version of yourself, when you don’t even know who that is anymore. I’m still learning how to make time for self-care, but I’ve realized that I can’t do any of this if I am not in tune with my mind, body, and soul. Pushing injuries both physical and emotional to the side will only hurt you more in the long run. Be honest with yourself. Heal. Grieve. Feel it all. I think for artists especially, it’s so easy for us to get lost in our craft and lost in the determination to make it to the next step or the next level. So much so that we forget to take a step back and take care of ourselves.
America’s Got Talent Golden Buzzer Auditions. This one sounds ridiculous, but I love watching people’s dreams come true. I love the pure, raw emotion that you see on their faces when that confetti drops from the ceiling, and they realize they’ve been seen. They’ve been heard, and they are one step closer to fulfilling their dream. I’ll be 15 hours into a creation and need a little motivation, so I’ll pop that on YouTube, have a good ugly cry, and then get back to work.
“Broken crayons can still color.” Came across this quote a few weeks ago and it’s been up on my letterboard ever since. I don’t know about everyone else, but some days are rough. Some days I wake up and feel broken, like a pile of broken crayons. But I know that I can and will keep going because somebody has to bring some color and joy into the world. Also, there’s nobody there to pick up my slack (haha!), so I just gotta.
Doing things that feed your flame. This could be as simple as listening to your favorite song, hanging out with family and friends, or soaking up some sun at the beach. Don’t forget to do things that bring joy and happiness to your soul. I recently watched the sunset at the beach with a friend for the first time in months and it literally brought tears to my eyes. It all felt so surreal, yet so simple and real at the same time. It made me realize that I needed to remove myself from my work and find the time to do things that fueled my flame. Things that made me feel “normal” and human again.