IDLE HANDS: FLORAL STAR MAURICE HARRIS IS SMELLING ROSES AND STYLING WIGS

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Maurice Harris is a low-key LA legend whose star deservedly continues to rise. Not only is his incredible and avant-garde floral business Bloom + Plume absolute goals, but he opened a cafe centering queer folx of color by the same name that is the place to go on Temple in Echo Park. His new short-form show “Centerpiece” is about to launch on Quibi, in which he makes arrangements in honor of influential creative friends, and his Microsoft commercial just dropped. And in case you were worried that he is not doing the most, Maurice has a cult following from his days as a dance teacher at the Sweat Spot, and a deep, abiding love of styling hair. Which, in fact, he does obsessively on mannequins for fun. We caught up with Maurice during what turns out to be the first time he has actually rested in, well, maybe his entire life.

How has your quarantine been? 

Everything stopped. I have been asking for years—YEARS—to hibernate for a couple of weeks. I just need to stop so I can catch up. And now I’m like, “Oh wait, we all have to stop.” When I shut down, I shut DOWN.

I’ve been going to therapy for about 8 years now, and one of the things that I do is I run from myself—so I have been taking this opportunity to be with myself and my feelings, and to know that it’s OK. I had a couple of big jobs right before this happened, so I knew that my rent was going to be paid for a couple months.

This situation is so big, and so beyond my pay grade, that I refuse to let myself be stressed out about something I did not create! The only thing that breaks my heart is reducing staff salary, furloughing staff. We have loans to pay back, there are a lot of moving pieces, and we’re in such a state of unknown.

How have you been staying sane?

Smelling the roses. Going for a walk. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, repeat. I started re-teaching myself how to play the piano.

I used to love playing with dolls as a kid, and wasn’t allowed to, so I’ve gotten mannequin dolls and been learning how to curl their hair. I cook; I’ve been reorganizing the house. I’m getting a new dog, so I’m puppy-proofing my house, and reading tons of books about dogs. And I try not to make myself do anything, and just be.

 

What has been keeping you professionally busy in quarantine?

Well, I’ve been finishing my show! It’s called “Centerpiece,” and it’s coming out on Quibi on May 18, and it’s been kind of a trip. This is the part of the process I was the most excited about, and it has been the most torturous because we are in quarantine.

It’s such a labor of love—to be able to create something that embodies my creative practice in all of it’s different applications is so cool. I interview different creatives, and interpret their creativity in the form of a floral installation that I present back to them. My guests include Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones, Moses Sumney, Kerby Jean-Raymond (the designer of Pyer Moss), and more.

I focused on people of color, and each person brings an aspect of their excellence and blackness to the show. I’m super, super, excited. Today is the day that we are handing the last two episodes off … and then we’re done.

People ultimately feel very seen by flowers representing them, and some are installations you can walk around, get inside of. It’s just been pretty cool.

Your work with flowers and foliage is incredible. (My mom is a serious flower arranger in a very different style, and she was floored by your work.) How did you get into plants as a medium?

It found me. My grandmother was a florist and a church-lady hatmaker, and I used to just watch her create, how she composed things. It was really moving to me. We are what we see in the world, and my grandmother’s creative process definitely informed mine. I worked in window displays for a very long time, and when that didn’t work out, I literally fell into flower design. I used to do arrangements for people at work. They’d be like, “Oh, can you do something for my mom?” And I’d say sure, because I was always picking up supplies for windows. And then it just turned into a thing. After the crash in 2008, I still had a job a year and a half later, and I finally got laid off—it took forever—and I took my severance and started my flower business. The rest is history.

You’ve worked for some incredible artists and people. What’s something you’ve made, or a project you worked on, that you’re incredibly proud of?

I really liked my Microsoft commercial for the Surface Pro. They were really interested in how to integrate their technology into supporting me as an artist, and I thought that was a really beautiful concept. They just let me do my thing. Between that and my show, those are the things I’m super, super, super proud of and very excited about. The show is some of the best work I’ve done in a while.

Your dance class at the Sweat Spot had a cult following. I know some people who are so proud of you for how much you’re crushing it, but still feel lost without your class. Are you dancing? 

I miss it, too. I don’t really dance anymore. Not a lot of time for it. I roller skate a lot. I really miss dancing. A lot, actually. Cause it’s such a beautiful way to be in your body, and I just don’t get to do that as much as I’d like to.

Has your routine or rhythm changed?

Yes. I’m such a busy person, and I do so much, that it has been really nice to slow it all down. I live 2 blocks away from my studio, and because I’m so busy, I would drive to work every day. And now I realize, oh, I was moving too fast. I actually need to slow down. If I can’t walk 2 blocks, that’s insanity!

I’m able to see parts of my neighborhood that I’ve never seen before; I’m able to explore making things again. I love playing with hair; it’s one of my favorite things. I have a crazy wig collection, and I love pretending like I’m a hairstylist, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

And really trying to be, more than do. And listen to my body more, and be more intuitive about how to get things done.

What else have you been thinking about?

I don’t know that I have the answer, but I do know that this time is illustrating and highlighting how the way we approach capitalism doesn’t work. I hope people are re-thinking how we are operating in the world. The distance between the haves and the have-notes is out of control. 

We all need to be checked. We are one. We are only as good as our weakest person.

It’s going to come in waves. Some people are resting now, and they’ll be on the front lines in the next months. I’ve been thinking about the cycles of things, and how we’re all going to do our part.

CONNECT WITH MAURICE HARRIS

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photos / Maria Jose Govea

story / Anna Bulbrook

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