Michael De Feo, the New York City-based artist responsible for brightening the park and helping us celebrate the Chelsea Grasslands with his plant-inspired works, spoke to the High Line team about his history with the High Line, what the park brings to the neighborhood, how the High Line fits into his artistic mission, and more:
You have a long history with the High Line. What drew you to the High Line, and what do you love about it?
Robert Hammond [FHL Executive Director and Co-Founder] and I met back in 2005 shortly after he reached out to invite me to collaborate with and support the High Line. Back then I had no idea what the High Line was except for something I walked under whenever I was in Chelsea or the Meatpacking District. So I could learn more, Robert sent me information about his and Josh’s vision for the elevated railway. I was immediately smitten with their dream to preserve this unique structure and convert it into something beautiful and exciting for the public’s benefit.
There are so many aspects of the High Line that I love, from its innovative and playful design features to the thoughtful and varied horticultural selections and layout. Perhaps not too surprisingly, one of my favorite things about the High Line is that, throughout the seasons, I can walk the entire park from Gansevoort Street all the way to 34th Street and encounter flowers and countless beautiful plants the entire way.
As someone who lives close to the High Line and who has exhibited at West Chelsea galleries, what do you think the park brings to the neighborhood?
In addition to being a beautiful place to take a leisurely stroll or relax under the cover of trees, the High Line has a remarkable amount of free public programming for all ages, as well as a first-class, rotating arts exhibition program showcasing work from around the world. There’s really something for everyone at the park.
How does your work for the High Line fit into your larger artistic mission?
Since I was a boy, I have been so in love with our great city. I had always wanted to become part of the fabric of New York and, somewhat literally, via my street art over the years, I have done exactly that. My floral work appears and grows on a variety of public surfaces where one wouldn’t typically find Mother Nature. Working on the Chelsea Grasslands Celebration, my floral messages continue to sprout and spread through the various signage and elements on the High Line.
One of the aspects of my work is the idea of renewal and regrowth, finding beauty in unexpected places. I believe our Chelsea Grasslands collaboration expresses the playful or whimsical side of my art and parallels similar public infiltrations I’ve made recently, like my paintings on fashion advertisements, which I take over in the bus-stop shelters of the city.
Could you tell us a little bit about your process for coming up with the Grasslands designs? What inspired you?
The beautiful colors, flowers, and grasses throughout the Grasslands was my biggest inspiration. I used these various elements as a springboard in my painting process. I don’t plan much before I work, it’s more of a responsive experience to what I’m encountering, and these aspects of the Grasslands were my starting point. I view my process as somewhat of a dance between improvisation and structure.
You’re known as “the Flower Guy”. Why flowers? How did you first start painting them?
My flower project was born out of a drawing exercise back in 1993. After painting a variety of child-like images, this one flower leapt out at me. Its simplicity and balance really stood out. I liked it so much that I made a silk-screen of it, and in no time I had prints on paper of the flower in a variety of colors. It was obvious to me that I should share them by gluing them up on the streets of Manhattan—just a I was doing at the time with my paintings on paper.
Planting blooms around the city quickly became my obsession, and I pasted and painted them everywhere. I loved the contrast of spreading flowers in an environment of concrete, glass, and steel and giving the people of New York these little surprises. I’m hoping to spread some smiles— and perhaps some moments of magic. The flower project has taken me around the world, and it continues to nourish and feed me as it spreads and evolves. Aside from my contributions to the Chelsea Grasslands celebration, my most recent iteration of the project is having my flowers grow into the aforementioned fashion ads on the streets. I’m also painting directly onto the pages I source from fashion magazines, and I recently exhibited these works at Danziger Gallery here in New York. I’ve continued this foray into the fashion world, painting the cover of Neiman Marcus’ April catalog
The Book, designing a line of silk scarves with Echo New York, and most recently, launching an exclusive collection of hand-painted leather jackets in collaboration with MILLY. Follow me on Instagram @theflowerguy to keep abreast of what I’m up to next!
Celebrating the Chelsea Grasslands is made possible, in part, by TD Bank—the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.