Robert Bartolen - "I really like to shock people"

How did you start in floristry and how did this craft become your vocation?

From early childhood I was always inclined towards nature and was fascinated by its functioning. Not only plants but also animals and the course of nature as a whole. Later, I began to develop tendencies towards aesthetics. That’s how it became my mission.

Now you are better known as an art florist, why did you choose this particular niche?

It was very natural. I am a person who constantly needs to progress and develop. I also demand this from the people who are around me. I perceive more support in design and architecture. And all these design trends are constantly evolving forward.


You are one of the brightest representatives of this direction (art floristry), could you name your colleagues who follow this direction and who is interesting to watch?

I myself cannot directly answer this question. It is very difficult for me to recommend someone who is similar to me. My goal is to be completely different. The florists I follow are people I respect because of what they have achieved in life. How they were able to sacrifice their lives with flowers.But what motivates me most is other areas of creativity. Mostly people who work in art, architecture, sculpture.  I follow several world curators, or artists who make various performances. The next segment I follow is the universe. But the biggest inspiration are photographers who are dedicated to nature. Insects, birds, colors and structures or even various everyday details that reveal the other face of nature.

Your style is easily recognized, it is difficult to mix you up with someone else. How do you describe your style yourself?

I like new technologies, new knowledge, pushing boundaries. I like when a person can get out of the comfort zone. I really like to shock people, I really like to motivate people with M discussions. I know that many of the projects I do are difficult for people to accept. Very often these are the elements where people ask themselves what is so difficult about it? Or many experts look for HAUTE COUTURE floristics in my works. They are looking for complexity, they are looking for elaborate, they are looking for a mix of materials. But what is most visible in the works is simplicity. What I put the most emphasis on is the idea and the Message. link is the most important thing that characterizes me. The second card is an emphasis on one thing. Each of my works is always characterized by the dominance of one basic point. Sometimes it's an elaboration technique. Sometimes it's a plant. Sometimes it's structure. Or face or texture. But one main point is always important. I don't like when the reference is lost in the complexity of the final work.


Which florists have influenced you and shaped your vision of floristry?

For me it is currently only one visionary. Azuma Makoto. To be very specific. I know that many of my colleagues do not recognize his style. Which is very often destructive. He likes to use elements that destroy plants. But for me there is an artist who pushes the limits of tolerance. But what is most important: It offers a view of nature from a completely different perspective. And thus it also develops our field. It breaks normal laws, it breaks the law of gravity. I don't want to talk specifically about his work, because his work only needs to be  experienced. He is a true artist.

Who would you call your main teacher?

Well, I know a very precise answer to this. It's life. It's not anyone in particular. I'm not a person who gets carried away. I work by transferring what I experience to my work. Or what has an impact. Either there is something wrong or, on the contrary, something extraordinary. So that people think about what is happening. Life is my greatest teacher.


What was the highest point in your career?

It's been a long time since I stopped the commercial journey. There was a moment when I realized that I wanted to follow the path of art. I remember the exact moment when I received that invoice and I told my people in my team the way we are going is not good, that we have to go a harder way. We must go the way of the individual. The path will not be easy, but it will be all the more interesting.

Were there moments of disappointment? And how have you dealt with them?

Of course. These moments belong to every life. These are the moments that can break a person's neck. But at the same time, they can also be moments that propel them forward.

The framing of the Pope's visit - tell us about that event.

It was a project that was definitely one of those unique ones. From the very beginning, to the end. Even as a little boy, I wanted to make flowers for the Pope. Well, that's probably the dream of every person who is a believer. When I learned that the Pope would be in Slovakia, I decided to send  my project to  the Church headquarters directly. It was full of power when I found out, really not forgettable. It was also binding. I presented the projects to the architects who were in charge of this entire event. There were very demanding 6 weeks when we communicated violently with each other. It was not at all easy to explain that floristry has a completely different form today than in the past. The architects were very careful. But in the end I managed to push my opinion of cooperation in a completely different direction. The result was successful. All the details worked together beautifully. This project is extremely demanding because of the protocol, which had to be 100%. There were 3 forms of protocol that the decoration had to meet. Civil, state and liturgical protocol. For each of them, I had a specialist and an advisor at my disposal. This experience was incredible. I love the challenge and difficulty of the project. It was a tough challenge for me. But I accepted it with complete joy and enthusiasm. And what is interesting about this project is that my entire team of people who worked on this project brought it together very well. Currently, this project and the entire team of people who participated are nominated for the biggest architecture award we have here in Slovakia. It is the most prestigious award in architecture. I never even dreamed of such a thing.


You are probably the only Slovak florist who is so well known. How important is it for you, among other things, to be an ambassador of your country's culture?

This is a very nice question. Because many people do not realize that being an ambassador is not only about aesthetics. It's not just about promoted countries. But it is also about responsibility, what is the state of floristry in a specific region. Creating concepts or collections and publishing them in magazines is one of those beautiful and noble things. It's the icing on the cake for me. But what is much more important to me is how this resistance is accepted in my country. How it is progressing. How people improve. What conditions are created here so that we can move forward. It is very important to take all steps in order for this field to progress. The situation regarding the pandemic was also very important and groundbreaking. When I couldn't travel like every other person around the world. But I solved local problems that affected everyone. They were the problems of existence. These were problems that each one of us faced. I created programs for several flower shops. I did business strategy consulting. I created the concepts. Staff school. I saved several dozen flower shops here in the Czech Republic. It was a daily struggle. They cried  a lot. A lot of anxiety. And for me it was determination. It was a belief in the importance of helping. It was the moment when I knew that now it was important to help. It is important that I stand for  my country and it helps people in this field here in Slovakia. And this is also the ambassador's mission. To solve problems not only internationally but mainly from where it originates. And with our regional identity, global things that can break a bad situation. And turn it into progress.


Which florists from your country would you recommend?

It would not be correct and loyal to name one or two florists. To favor a particular person. Or a specific company. What is very important is that our floristry is really of high quality. It is competitive at the world level. I think that Slovak florists are really trying to advance and promote our local identity. That is the most important vision for me, why I want to be an ambassador. to make our identity recognizable and very distinctive in Europe.

Your designs is very technical, you often use unexpected materials, transforming it, is this part of your vision of floristry?

Yes, definitely yes. It is very necessary for me. As I mentioned, pushing the boundaries and moving forward is a priority for me. It is mainly the message that I want to give to young people to move forward. To experiment. To progress. So that they are not afraid to break the rules. The rules that are so very conservative in European floristry. I consider myself a rebel. I try to provoke young people so that they are not afraid of various topics. I try to provoke them to not be afraid of experiment. It is very important to me. Technical elements and also different types of processing are one of the points that can move us forward. I think it's time to let go of inhibitions. For a long time, European floristry is not developing technically. And therefore it is necessary to introduce a lot of new inspiration.


You often find phallic symbols and references to eroticism in your designs - is this a conscious decision?

Absolutely yes. Erotica is also a part of life. It is very important to make a mirror in the space we are in. To show what reality is. Don't be afraid of different topics. Show your true face. Erotica is a part of our life, every single human life. As is death, for example. Which I also talk about very often in my works.

On stage, you differ from most other florists in your informal style - dress and demeanor. Is this part of the image or a manifestation of your personality?

I don't know, I never thought about it. I try to appear natural. I do not intend to create an illusion that should characterize me. I try to create what I feel, and when it comes to me, the image is clearly a signature of my personality. I hope it’s not evil. Or artificial. I would not like to act differently than I am inside.

In your works one can read beauty and freedom, all that combined with your image it seems that you are close to the philosophy of hippie culture. Are you?

I definitely don't like rules. I don't like boredom. I don't like opinions that limit the freedom of creation. It is very sad when today people limit themselves in their creation because they are ruled by what was created by other generations. Each generation has a space in the era and time in which it is located. It should refer to it best he can create. But it should not limit. It is very important to create space for new generations. Give them the opportunity for self-development. Show them that they are unique and give space to them for him.


There's also a strong connection to fashion and it seems that it's inspired by that industry. How close and interesting to you is this area?

I have worked with fashion for a very long time. More than 10 years of life. It is  part of me. I am very happy to return to this work. It is important to link design directions. Nowadays, design is broad-spectrum. It offers a lot of emotions.

How has floristry changed in recent years and where are the trends heading?

We live in a time when floristry is very important. People are taking a closer look at the natural direction of life. My opinion is that this is a very underutilized potential. Potential many times greater, it is also constantly increasing. But our spere cannot reflect this speed. Floristry is definitely progressing, but not as fast as it should. I think that nowadays it could determine the direction of the entire design. It could be the resistance that will determine the future. Lifestyle frameworks. Within interior design. Frameworks of architecture.


What are the main trends of 2023?                                                    

I really hope that the entire design direction will not be influenced by politics. But I don't know if it's a realistic wish here. The policy is currently under no. 1 that is and will have the most influence on development. The future is being pushed in all directions right now. Progression is very important. Expanding. It is important that creativity comes first. Fantasy is what distinguishes us from the classic consumer society. It is the only tool that can differentiate us from commercial chains, which are our biggest threat. Therefore, my immediate replacement for 2023 is not to be afraid to experiment. Even if the time will be really hard. It will be very demanding. It is very important not to forget our message. That's a joy. And love. A tool to make people lucky. Don't be afraid of colors. Don't be afraid of the combination. Energize people. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Name your top three florists right now?

This moment? Nica Bocancea, Cony van der Westerlaken, Tomas de Bruyne


Last question. Imagine that I am an aspiring and very talented florist. I have one day. Which people (living or deceased) should I have breakfast with, go to lunch with, have dinner with, and stay with for an after-party?

I know exactly the specific answer to this question. If it were possible, I would like to meet my grandparents again. Going to their house for dinner that grandma would have cooked And talking to them today with the thoughts I have in my head right now. I know this conversation would have been different before they died. I owe them a lot. And if it were someone else, I would like to meet the last person on this earth. And I would say sorry to him for the fact that we didn't do much more when it was still possible...


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