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Art in bloom at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden 

New exhibit pairs sculptures with orchids

Now might not seem like the best time to visit Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. It's winter and it's cold (well, depending on Charlotte's ever-fluctuating forecast). The garden's most exuberant outdoor plants are not blooming, the fountain is dry and there's an overall dormant dullness to the outside scenery. But it's a different story inside the garden's conservatory, where orchids and a mix of other flowers, trees, plants and greenery are wrapping themselves around the interior like a confined jungle on the brink of breaking free.

Part of that rather impressive space, worthy of a venture out to Belmont, is currently showcasing a new exhibit, Art & Orchids. The show pairs new sculptures by artist and sculptor Rick Lazes with orchids, representing dozens of genera and even more species and hybrids of the plant.

Lazes, better known for his World Is Bending collection — comprised of bent wood and steel sculptures — explores different territory in the exhibit's Liquid Art collection.

The featured works are each swirled with vibrant acrylic colors on the reverse side of plexiglass, which is then melted and shaped into form.

"They [from Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden] approached me about a year ago and asked me if I'd be interested in doing an exhibit with them," says Lazes. "I was really impressed with how much they knew about my art and how hard they worked to create a symbiotic relationship between my sculptures and the orchids. The botanist spent a day in my studio [located in N.C. Music Factory] and we coordinated the colors of the orchids with the sculptures so they were compatible."

The pieces, resembling crumbled paper, slinky fabrics and untamed fluid motions in shape, are colorfully unified with an assortment of paint blends, specks and powerful brushstrokes. They are named with titles like "Ramblin," "Swarth," "Star Struck" and "Tapestry."

Lazes began work on the Liquid Art collection last year. "It's a process that I thought I invented," he says. "I was so excited when I came up with it. Then I found out that people have been doing it for thousands of years."

The toughest part of the process, Lazes explains, has to do with timing. "You have a lot of control, but you don't have much time because the plexiglass is molten, so you have to wear insulated gloves and you only have a few minutes until it cools down to get the shape."

For Lazes, shaping is a trial and error process. His works, all of which feature extreme shapes, are not exempt from the occasional breaks and splits. To bring further diversity to the garden, pieces from his World Is Bending collection are also on display outside of the conservatory and inside the main lobby of DSBG.

"World Is Bending tends to make a statement about the position that society finds itself in, in the 21st century, and the traditional ideas and theories about the way society interacts and how they are being changed because of social media," says Lazes.

These pieces — larger, longer and sleeker — are more time consuming for Lazes due to the tedious processes of steaming, bending, sanding, oiling and polishing.

Two works that diverge from those in the other collections reside together in the lobby, one dedicated to Madonna and the other to Ray Charles. These works are comprised of bent wood that's been covered with cutout images of the performers and glued together with acrylic palmer.

"As a concert promoter, I've worked with a lot of different artists, and so I kind of personalized those pieces by doing a collage of their images on top of the wood," says Lazes.

Diversity looms large in the pieces on display by Lazes, but as far as the orchids go, you'll get even more variety. The conservatory, which opened in 2008, houses the garden's largest and most distinguished plant collection, featuring orchids on display year-round.

According to Peter Grimaldi, horticulture manager at DSBG, orchids bloom most heavily in late winter and early spring. The flower, often associated with a hard-to-grow reputation, must have a critical combination of light exposure and humidity for proper growth in homes.

"Most orchids also need to be physically repotted on a regular interval to ensure reliable blooms, which is labor intensive," says Grimaldi. "Orchids are like any other plant, however, and will indicate where and how they prefer to grow. The Garden is well-equipped to maintain the collection with an additional six thousand square feet of production greenhouses dedicated to growing the orchids that are not in bloom and off-display."

Folks looking to learn more about growing and maintaining orchids can attend an upcoming orchid workshop on March 1, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ($20 for members and $25 for non-members, plus a $25 materials fee). There will also be another workshop, geared toward photographing orchids, on Feb. 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., with instructor Dave Kelly.

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