At the Prestwould, an innovative flower exhibit from West Coast artist Amanda McCauley was grown from local family memories.

click to enlarge Recent works from this year such as “Coconut Cake” and “Lock and Key” feature fresh flowers on handpainted artboard sealed in protective wax.

Recent works from this year such as “Coconut Cake” and “Lock and Key” feature fresh flowers on handpainted artboard sealed in protective wax.

Artist Amanda McCauley doesn’t just break the rules of flower pressing. She has her sights on larger things, like the art world and, more importantly, the art market.

“I actually do everything against the rules,” says McCauley, who’s based in Los Angeles. “Typically, flower pressing is about preserving the flowers in their natural state. But I take everything apart, and then I put them all back together in new and interesting ways.”

McCauley forgoes gallery representation to sell directly to the customer. Trained in advertising, she markets and brands her identity. She also favors exhibiting her work in short-term, pop-up shows housed in temporary locations, such as an apartment at the Prestwould, her parents’ former residence for the last 20 years, or her barn on Lopez Island, Washington.

The exhibitions are meant to offer an experience, with McCauley considering the total environment. For Richmond, McCauley worked with the Underground Kitchen to hold a dinner in the apartment.

Likewise, she breaks the rules of what’s permissible for an audience to do to an art object. After gluing the flowers onto a two-dimensional frame, McCauley applies wax on top to preserve the fragile works and protect the color from fading. “With the wax on top,” she says, “I’m constantly saying, ‘Please come and touch the work.’”

The wax is a recent addition. But McCauley has been altering pressed flowers for the last five years. She works closely with her husband, Thom Higgins, a retired commercial film director. He makes each hand-constructed frame from recycled cardboard.

Faced with a peripatetic lifestyle that keeps her in Los Angeles most of the time, New York sometimes, Washington during the summers, and Richmond for family visits, McCauley, originally a graphic designer, needed an art form that was equally mobile.

“I wanted to find something from each location,” she says. “I had grown up around flowers, so it just made sense. I started making stationery cards with pressed flowers.”

Armed with a stack of those cards and a small booth, McCauley spent that first summer selling her work each Saturday at the local Lopez Island farmers’ market in Washington. She sold out every weekend and garnered repeat customers.

“I found out that people weren’t using these as stationery,” she says. “Instead they discovered that they looked great framed in a hallway. And I thought, if they’re doing that, then we can do that for them.”

Initially, McCauley and Higgins made small works, no larger than 8 by 10 inches. Since then, they’ve enlarged the format, introduced hand coloring and added encaustic wax. Not a flower grower, McCauley’s material comes from a variety of places: friends’ gardens on Lopez Island, the L.A. Flower Market or empty parking lots.

“It’s not necessarily the most beautiful flower that attracts me,” she says, “but it’s always the most interesting flower.”

For “The 7th Floor” at the Prestwould, McCauley has set her sight on personal topics related to memory and family, which is underscored by the location, her parents’ former home, now vacant. Married for 53 years, her parents live in assisted living facilities, with her mom living separately in an Alzheimer’s unit.

“It has nothing to do with Alzheimer’s,” she says. “Instead it is about my memory of them and their memories of each other.”

In honor of her mom, a British woman who loved to bake, there are a lot of desserts, like “Coconut Cake” (2014). For her dad, a former Episcopal minister who often brought home bouquets of flowers for his wife and two daughters, there are corsages. Likewise, there’s a pocket watch, because as McCauley quipped, “my dad was a time manager.” Additional images include a tuxedo shirt, vintage lingerie, shoes and other fashion items.

Photographs of the works don’t show their three-dimensionality and the delicacy of the ephemeral material. Flattening each pressed flower arrangement is a two-dimensional image that reads as an icon. In reality, these works are tactile and objectlike, intended for viewers to see, feel and experience firsthand. S

Amanda McCauley’s “The 7th Floor” shows at the Prestwould, 612 W. Franklin St., Apt. 7-A, in a pop-up exhibition by appointment only, on Friday, April 24, and Saturday, April 25. To go, email info@amandamccauley.com.


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