In May of 2009, when I first encountered Jay Michael Vorse, he was standing at the kitchen sink of a West Hollywood apartment, which he shared with my friend; the faucet was running and stems were being slung about. In essence, he was working...
Mid December of the same year found him backed by an investor, in the process of leasing a design shop--his own. When he shared this news, his pure pleasure ignited my own as he went on to explain and express: this space would be furnished with work tables, display structures and lighting fixtures, all custom-designed to incorporate, feature and function with his floral design work, in an extension of the same aesthetic. Enchanted by the thought, I was far from shocked, and could easily imagine what he described as a natural result of the resolve, attention, style and play that Vorse emanated constantly in his work.
Back in May, when we were first introduced, it was, as always, a pleasure to meet someone new; particularly someone who, according to a superlative source, had a reputation for brilliance. But, after a mannerly exchange of greetings, it was also my pleasure to depart without ado and leave this individual to continue whatever he was doing, free of interruption. I, myself, had some familiarity with the "creative urge", "artistic expression" and "daily practice". Furthermore, I'd gained experiential knowledge of the efficiency, speed and accuracy that is required to conserve resources and generate commercial growth. Until I could engage, balance, harmonize and refine all of these forces within my own life, I could best cope by demonstrating respect for the time and concentration of someone who had.
The next time I crossed paths with Vorse, it was an opening event at Santa Monica Art Studios, following a performance entitled The World is a Piece of Art, by Jeremy Hahn. For the performance, each of nine primary participants, including myself, wore a thistle-and-orchid ornament handmade by Vorse to emphasize our roles--and we had successfully facilitated an amazing event. Audience participation, harp resonance and the sense that a whole had been created--greater than the sum of its parts--still hung in the air. In that atmosphere, Vorse circulated, and in turn, he came to me. As I happened to turn my head, his kiss-on-the-cheek landed squarely on the side of my nose. The slight blunder managed to trigger a surge of all the anxiety I had felt pre-performance. Yet the face poised before my own, near enough to scrutinize, remained affable. I responded in kind, which transformed whatever awkwardness there was into a moment of true rapport.
A few weeks past the date of the performance, an opportunity arose to escape the city for a couple of days to Point Mugu, for a birthday celebration on the beach. I rendezvoused for the carpool, equipped with camping gear, happy to help set up tents and light the fire. As it began to blaze, potluck offerings were brought out, and with tremendous satisfaction, a meal was shared. Conversation ensued freely and I took the opportunity to ask Vorse about how he got his start working with plants. In Seattle, at age sixteen, employed in a greenhouse; he later chose to study design and plant physiology in college. Afterwards he received training in floral design technique working in Washington State. At the end of each workday, he would salvage broken flowers from the cooler floors: lost petals, damaged stalks, product that would otherwise have been discarded.
Throughout this process, he observed interesting phenomena: orchids, for instance, will remain vital longer if they are disassembled, de-stemmed and kept in contact with hydrated oasis foam. The rigid stems of calla lilies posses an internal vascular structure; collapsed selectively by the process of directional burnishing, they can be trained to loop about smoothly in curving arcs. Submerged in water, roses a close-clinging veil of micro air-bubbles, glazing the texture of each petal with a luminescence that looks almost otherworldly. Vorse proceeded to test such properties until variables could be determined and results could be reproduced. Utilized creatively, his experimentation evolved into the non-traditional designs that have become the signature of his style. Early on, his employers disapproved of his unconventional designs, but special requests from customers affirmed that a market for them existed. This conflict arose in relationships with several business managers. Looking back, Vorse credits all those instances and individuals as having presented him with his greatest lessons and opportunities to excel—they motivated him to define his style, hone his technique, and ultimately, build the confidence required to strike out on his own in business. For the past few years, he has collaborated passionately with event planners and interior designers, and has lavishly satisfied the floral desires of private clients in their businesses and homes. However, Vorse finds most inspiration in the cutting edge of "Floral Couture Fashion", a niche market within his field, for which he is steadily gaining opportunity and expertise—documentation of which is featured prominently on his website.
As I listened to his story with one ear, two words which arose in my mind were: "elevator pitch" and "affirmation"...both had been bantered about in my hearing recently, though the boundaries of their definitions were blurred by my concept of the expansiveness they potentially represented. I felt clear, however, that their combined power was presenting itself to me now in the form of Mr. Michael. While he served food, stoked the fire, and tussled the coat of the pup in our party, I eyed the blue tattoos running up and down the lengths of his arms: "Gratitude and Appreciation for who I am, where I have been and where I am going" "Press play to begin" and "Commitment". One graphic I immediately identified as his business logo; another, I interpreted subjectively as a magic beanstalk ladder...eventually; I absorbed another layer of their meaning. For him, those messages were always immediately present, in plain sight: as he worked, they were impossible to escape--it duly awed me.
Graciously, Vorse agreed to an interview. It was a delight to sit down together with cups of tea and the photo albums that comprised his portfolio. I saw shots of the work he'd done in Thailand, using native plants in contemporary compositions, integrated with locally produced silks. He showed me magazine spreads of work he'd produced for a traditional Iranian wedding, an unrivaled display of wealth. But he also showed pictures of his earliest work, for which he exhibited fondness, respect, and healthy humor.
Verified by his manner, his success, and the messages he has made indelible for himself... Vorse swears that the most important ingredient of a good day is his own smile. The fact is that the industry is driven by what are well known as "floral emergencies". He is often hired to infuse beauty, move emotion, and administer comfort in delicate or vulnerable situations: birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, for instance, are not always easy for people to celebrate; appeals for forgiveness, consolation for illness and condolence for grief are all intensely personal experiences in people's lives. You never know what someone else is going through, in the moment that his or her attitude short circuits. But in dealing with this, Vorse understands and meets the urgent need people have to express their utmost feelings personally in floral form.
And here, I make special note: Vorse's comportment, which was consistently authentic and positive, indicates to me his self-mastery. This attribute is an instrumental element in the success of all life's works. But, clearly, it is also true that pursuing success in a profession creates opportunity to develop a wide variety of valuable attributes. Vorse didn't speak with me in any great detail about struggles; perhaps because all the points of interest we had to share arose naturally, and in such abundance. But openly and regularly in our communications, he interjected testimony to having received so much instruction, opportunity and support from countless mentors, teachers and role models. What he looks forward to most and what will give him the greatest sense of success will be the ability to someday invite, train and support new members within the industry.
The week following our interview, I had a significant first-hand experience with one of Vorse's works. I'd driven 1.5 hours across town, in heavy traffic, to meet a friend who'd just gone through a break-up. When I entered the residence where he was house-sitting, I was much relieved for him to be there: the setting was a resplendent sanctuary, incidentally a pitch-perfect context for the graceful object/monument, which I soon beheld. Sitting atop a tiled kitchen island, illuminated to flattering effect by recessed lighting, was one of Vorse's arrangements. As I looked it up and down, I learned it was a thirty+ year wedding anniversary present. Three feet tall and 10 inches in diameter, the translucent, water filled cylinder glowed peacefully. Submerged inside it, a rope of ivory roses hung in a single-helix, a soft spiral that ascended its full height. Upon nearer inspection, a close-clinging veil of shasta-sheen could be seen glimmering on the surface of each untouchable petal, intensified by the dimly lit room. Delivered more than a week ago, the cream-color had begun to yellow-brown, antiquing exposed edges first, oxidizing wherever the structure's delicate physicality had been permeated by split or tear. Like a geologist's core-sample, an earthy layer of lag gravel was contained at its base, settled into a precarious slant, leading me to wonder what cares were taken in the sequence of its assembly. To me, the truth of this piece symbolically communicated the extremes of up-hill and downhill, transcended by the beauty of a maturing commitment — (were there roses in equal number to the years? I wondered--). Inexplicably, it impelled a wish for Brancusi's endless column, or something cool and angelic come-to- the-rescue, to the window of a burning building; a ladder leading somewhere towards heaven...all my associations were purely subjective, but of profound cumulative effect to my awareness and world-view.
It was in December when Vorse was able to share with me the exciting news about his investor:
"Her name is Anjelik"
"Why, of course it is!"
She is 100% behind Vorse's work, owns a number of other businesses, and is guiding him through the process of evolving his professional life to the next level. Expectations about particular locations have fluctuated, but the vision has remained firm.
Presently, Jay Michael Vorse's floral art can be found at www.flowersdesigned.com soon to be known as "DESIGNED", a studio/store located in Los Angeles, CA.