Britton Neubacher’s Moss-Covered World

After suddenly switching to a made virtual in 2020the San Diego Museum of Art’s annual floral event, Art Alive, returned in person in 2021. Despite the relatively small version of its previous 40-plus-year history, some 10,000 visitors attended throughout the weekend .

The dozens of floral interpretations of artwork by local designers are an integral part of Art Alive, scattered around the museum gallery near the works that inspired them, whether abstract interpretations or incredibly accurate renditions of the work itself.

The centerpiece of SDMA’s decor during Art Alive is the Rotunda, the spectacular atrium with lobby balcony, often by an internationally renowned floral designer. This year, local botanical artist and designer Britton Neubacher will adorn the rotunda with his moss sculptures and creations that combine science and nature.

“The way to make a world is to bring nature into it”

Before leaving her career to focus on botanical design, she worked in social work at a crisis center and introduced plants into the workspace to help create little sanctuaries for clients.

“I was witnessing firsthand how simple it really was, the power of nature over our well-being,” Neubacher said. “I was also doing a lot of burnout. And I would come home and put my hands in the pot. At one point, someone gave me a piece of blown glass that was hanging down. And because I was obsessed by dollhouses when i was a kid i saw this and i just knew there had to be a little mini world in there – and the way to create a world is to bring nature, n ‘is this not ?”

From there, Neubacher launched tendency to livehis botanical design business, in 2007, and has also dipped his toes in the artistic community.

Courtesy of the artist / SDMA

Britton Neubacher’s recent installation work, shown in an undated photo in San Diego, California.

In recent years, Neubacher has been part of the group exhibition 2019 “forces of nature“, featuring eighteen installations inspired by the regional landscape at San Diego International Airport.

Last summer, Neubacher opened “In the middle between this and that: Guardians of the Fertile Void“, a solo exhibition of sculptures and flat works at the Trash Lamb Gallery, where the do-it-yourself spirit and accessibility of the South Park gallery appealed to her.

Moss ‘doesn’t play by the rules’

Neubacher primarily uses moss as a material, along with other preserved foliage for embellishment. His interest in moss and preserved greenery strays from the single-use nature of cut flowers, driven primarily by sustainability.

“I love working with foam. It’s messy and it’s untamed and it’s unpredictable and it doesn’t follow the rules and it won’t stay inside the lines. And it’s really chaotic by My attempt is to bring some organization to its chaos to illustrate that this time we are in it can seem out of control and maybe even like a breakdown actually has some intelligence behind it if we can trust the nature’s process,” Neubacher said.

Artist Britton Neubacher works on his large-scale moss-covered installation-sculpture.

Julia Dixon Evans

Britton Neubacher works on the installation of “Organized Chaos,” his Art Alive rotunda work, shown in an April 25, 2022 photo. The finished work will be on view April 29 through May 1, 2022 at the San Diego Museum of Art.

She uses a variety of preserved foams, some bleached to a soft cream color, and others even granulated into a finer powder-like form that she can use for more detailed applications.

“It’s a painstaking process that we’ve created that’s basically like painting with foam. And we’re creating very refined, granulated foam powders that allow us to achieve very detailed detail. And then we also create a space for the wilder expression of this material.. So we combine the two,” Neubacher said.

Her botanical creations are sculptural and wild, but also exude an element of geometry or precision. Neubacher’s ‘portals’, ‘plantities’ and other moss-based installation works build on this balance of chaos and organization that ultimately inspired his Art Alive rotunda design, ‘Organized Chaos’.

close up of Britton Neubacher moss and preserved botanical sculpture

Julia Dixon Evans

Detail of Britton Neubacher’s ongoing installation, ‘Organized Chaos’, containing preserved moss, bleached moss and other plants, as seen in a photo dated April 25, 2022 at SDMA.

Op art meets wilderness

While Neubacher’s inspiration comes from patterns and designs in nature, the work in the rotunda is also inspired by the “op art” movement based on optical illusion pioneered by the Franco-Hungarian artist Victor Vasarelywho came to prominence in the 1930s.

“[Vasarely’s] The art of optical illusion tricks the eye, and it does so by using color and pattern. But what I’m trying to do is play with the largely indomitable nature of the moss, and I hope to illustrate the possibility that this chaotic time we’re living in right now is also an illusion. Maybe there is order in the chaos as we are composted and reorganized into something stronger and hopefully more sustainable,” Neubacher said.

In the museum‘s rotunda, Neubacher installed a massive 13-foot-tall pyramid made up of 27 large triangular panels. Each panel measures approximately 1.5m and is covered in alternating patterns: intricate pinwheel or vine-shaped moss patterns, preserved plants such as ferns and pods, tree foliage, preserved roses (chosen for their healing nature) and Moreover.

Britton Neubacher's moss-covered installation at SDMA

Julia Dixon Evans

Detail of Britton Neubacher’s Art Alive installation consisting of a large wooden pyramid covered in geometric patterns of preserved moss and plants, shown in progress in a photo from April 25, 2022.

In the patterns there are hints of psychedelia, fractal and sacred geometry and the sorts of patterns and formulas found in nature like the Golden Rule and the Fibonacci sequence. It sounds mathematical, but still wild – in the sense that the calculations are beyond human control. Plus, one wonders how Neubacher managed to get foam to do all of this.

The colors are also from nature: countless shades of greens and creams. Rare splashes of color – like blue-tinted LED lights attached to the bottom of the pyramid – are a nod to Vasarely.

Be sure to look up: Suspended from the museum ceiling above the pyramid, three large moss-covered spheres spin slowly on motors; it’s almost otherworldly or celestial. And also cool and realistic: giant disco foam balls.


Julia Dixon Evans

The ongoing installation of Britton Neubacher’s “Organized Chaos,” a botanical sculpture made of preserved moss and foliage, wood and more, including three giant disco ball motors, shown in an April 25, 2022 photo at the San Diego Museum of Art rotunda. The completed installation will be visible during Art Alive, from April 28 to May 1, 2022.

A large charred tree branch ikebana sculpture is also part of the installation, designed in collaboration with Neubacher by ikebana artist Noriko Mochida. Ikebana is a traditional Japanese form of floral arrangement, often very minimalistic.

Cascading vines and chunks of moss hang from the second-story balcony railings. Neubacher worked with a team of 20 people to build and install the rotunda design, including volunteers and staff.


Julia Dixon Evans

Artist Britton Neubacher adds moss, ferns and other preserved plants to his Art Alive rotunda installation, shown in progress on April 25, 2022. The final installation will be on view at the San Diego Museum of Art from April 29 through May 1, 2022.

Unlike previous years with cut flowers, the design will survive indefinitely. While Neubacher doesn’t yet know what the pyramid sequel will be when Art Alive wraps, she’s enjoying the event’s immersive timing.

“Having a public art opportunity like at SDMA is really cool – that people can come in and just be with the work, and it’s not about acquiring or doing a job for somebody and hoping that he loves it. It feels like it’s a very special way to kind of give back to my community, to the arts community, to San Diego as a whole,” Neubacher said.

SDMA’s Art Alive is from Friday April 29 to Sunday May 1, 2022
Scheduled event
Art Alive: $40 (free for members)
Bloom Bash: $250 members, $300 public
Note: Art Alive tickets or museum membership required to access the museum all weekend

Also on display:

  • New Exhibition Fernando Casasempere, “Terra”, opens Friday and will be visible during Art Alive, until September 5, 2022.
  • For the Friday evening return of the ticket Bloom Bash Party, artist Ian Brill will install an immersive work using colored light panels. This work will also be visible throughout the weekend.

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