Leather flowers and lichen are growing within London's Contemporary Applied Arts. Their strangely beautiful and delicate forms, which give new life to discarded scraps from bookbinding, are the handiwork of British sculptor Laura Youngson Coll, winner of this year's Perrier-Jouët Arts Salon Prize.
Youngson Coll was selected from 10 candidates for the prize, which celebrates contemporary craftsmanship and stems from the house's long history of patronage of the arts. The sculptor was chosen by the Salon - a gathering of leading creative lights who meet to share ideas and debate developments in the arts - for the way her work reflects the ethos of Perrier-Jouët and its Art Nouveau heritage, with pieces inspired by natural forms and organic structures.
The sculptor has won £10,000 in cash to support her development and a solo show (her first) at Contemporary Applied Arts, which opens tomorrow. Alongside some earlier works that feature flowers and a three-dimensional interpretation of Ernst Haeckel's 19th century studies of cell forms, there is the personal research that the artist has been carrying out for several years, studying lichens and moss.
'I have been observing lichens for a while,' she explains. 'I have always liked their details, these microcosms of environments often overlooked. A few years ago I was traveling quite extensively, and it's interesting, looking at the minutiae of any environment, how you can find similarities even on the other side of the world.'
This fascination with nature and the impact of human intervention inspired her 'Indicator Species' series, a study of five environments and the lichens that grow in each, ranging from reindeer moss in the Arctic that was exposed to Chernobyl nuclear contamination, to the lichens found in urban areas of London.
'These things are adapting because we have polluted or we have done something to the environment, and maybe we should take more notice,' she adds. While they might be laced with commentary on our treatment of nature, her rendition of the lichens, perched on small sticks, has a fairytale-like quality, responding to the Art Nouveau motto, to 'transform the mundane of everyday life into something truly beautiful'.
The series is carefully assembled from leather and vellum. 'I am very much guided by the material,' the artist says, 'and my work is always being transformed in the making process - you have happy accidents and you discover a lot while you are making.'