In a San Francisco garden of a different sort, artist Clark Sorenson is cultivating hybrids: Linnaeus crossed with Duchamp, Home Depot with the Chelsea Garden Show. Each colorful porcelain specimen is designed with a glorious blossom—daffodil, Morning Glory, California poppy, Pink Lady's Slipper orchid, hollyhock—and anthers, petals, and leaves. And, yes, they are meant to be watered—in the bathroom. Sorenson's floral urinals are a new genus of art and botany: a hybrid of man's plumbing with woman's tulips.
Sorenson and his work; photo credit: Clark Sorenson
As expected, Sorenson has a good sense of humor about his work. Having worked in ceramics and porcelain, the artist says that "the idea just sort of blossomed to make urinals into an object of beauty." He launched the line in 2006, and they've since been integrated into the bathrooms of garden shops and private homes. They are also popular at art museums (titled "Nature's Calling," "FLUSH," and "May Flowers," the exhibit has shown in Budapest, Seoul, San Diego), where their installation is temporary. However, Sorenson did include functional plumbing at a San Francisco exhibit, where visitors could have fun flushing the flowers.
Special exhibit at the California Orchid Exposition, San Francisco, 2008; photo credit: Clark Sorenson
According to Sorenson, his botanic urinals are particularly hot at garden shops in the Europe. After visiting a Calla lily in the bathroom at a plant shop in Lancashire, UK, one can purchase a postcard that reads "I've watered the flowers at Barton Grange Garden Centre." The owner recalls that, during the first few weeks, the men's bathroom was blocked by women looking at the blossoming wall flowers. Last year, a newly-opened garden centre in Aberdeen, UK, hosted an inaugural gala where the highlights were Sorenson's three installed urinals, and a model wearing a dress made of roses. Fashion for the women, toilets for the men, and flowers for everyone.
Dobbies Garden World in Aberdeen, UK, has installed Sorenson's Pitcher Plant, pink orchid, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit
I asked the artist about his sculptures, and their public reception:
Garden Design: Your work is so unexpected. How do people respond? Do women have a particular reaction?
Clark Sorenson: It is really fun for me to watch people when they first encounter my work. Most everyone finds the humor in them right away. I was invited to a huge home show in Korea and it was great to hear a squeal and see a group of Korean women run towards my exhibit, pointing and laughing. Women often approach me about making something for them. I often hear that "they are too beautiful to use." I would rather use something beautiful than something ugly and I'm not just speaking about urinals.
GD: Garden shops in the UK have especially embraced your work and its functionality. Their launch events sound like art openings! What was your experience there, as the artist?
CS: The [Barton Grange] opening was fantastic. Princess Anne was a bit formal and she grimaced
at the suggestion that she enter the men's bathroom to see my urinals.
I felt like a munchkin
meeting Dorothy when I was presented to her. My urinals garnered more
attention and press than any other element of the centre
. The people at the garden centre were some of the most
lovely people I've ever met. They all had such a wonderful sense of humor.
They treated me like a celebrity. It was definitely a highlight of
my career so far.
GD: Why flowers?
CS: I've always loved flowers. I adore Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers. I have
numerous flower books and thousands of photos that I have taken.
I keep wondering when I will move onto some other shape but I am
still captivated by using flowers and there is an endless variety to inspire
And, the artist's statement:
"My current work reflects my interest in combining beauty with function as well as exploiting the discord between opposing elements in life and in art. The contradiction of taking an unsightly urinal and transforming it into a graceful flower or shell is a potent combination. Since most people think of a urinal as being ugly or dirty, it is the perfect object to beautify. These pieces also echo more classic conflicts between masculine and feminine, good and evil, soiled and chaste. Ideally these pieces would be fully functioning each time they are exhibited, their interactivity being another key element. By flushing or even urinating into my pieces one's experience can hopefully be even more intimate and engaging." — Clark Sorensen, September 2005
Barton Grange Garden Centre postcard; photo credit: Barton Grange, 2008