The Chilean Floral Artist Taking Over Your Instagram Feed
Getting ahold of Carolina Spencer isn’t easy. When she’s not designing ceramic vases, the Barcelona-based creative behind the floral Instagram sensation Matagalan is busy finessing ikebana-like installations for the foyers of the relaxed fashion label Masscob, or refreshing weekly foliage amongst the city’s flourishing cafés and coffee shops — Casa Bonay and Satan’s Coffee among them. In fact, you’re probably already familiar with her work even if you aren’t based in the Catalonian capital. In her feed, artfully balanced ceramic totems and ikebana-inspired botanicals make for an enviably satisfying scroll (as do images of her light-filled home-cum-studio space). It’s the perfect platform for a creative who’s more at home expressing herself through imagery and concepts, rather than words.
“It’s crazy what happens on Instagram — how people empathize with you, and how close it makes you feel to others,” Spencer explains. “What I like most is the power of the image. I don’t need to explain anything about my work or who I am; the images speak for themselves.”
Spencer, who launched an online shop just before the end of last year, designs all of the vases herself, though admits she’s not a trained ceramicist. (She sends her ideas and drawings to a maker with a studio in the nearby Cataluña countryside.) But before Spencer began creating ceramic pots — four years ago when she realized the importance of how flowers and plants are displayed and placed in a room — she worked as a florist. At that time, the world of plants and flowers was associated with a somewhat snobby and elitist kind of decoration. Now the floral culture in Spain — and elsewhere — is changing, and armed with a modern and playful approach, she’s happy to be at the forefront. We recently spoke to Spencer about the origins of her studio name, her desire to rediscover her Chilean heritage, and Barcelona as a perennial inspiration.
You moved to Barcelona 14 years ago from your home in Chile. What is it about the city that’s appealing to you?
At this point of my life, I can say that what I am today is the result of a bunch of experiences and information that I’ve been collecting over all the years, and that I have finally found an aesthetic expression that defines my thoughts. I suppose a big part of that information came from living here in Barcelona. I come from Chile, a country in which it was very difficult to be different and to not be judged, especially as a woman. This doesn’t happen in Barcelona. Here I had the opportunity to express and explore myself without limitation.
I also had the chance over the past five years to meet very talented people who have showed me new things and influenced me. Some of those people have also become my friends and I’m very grateful for that. I’m a very home-loving person, not very social; I don’t go to many exhibitions, so I think all of the influence I absorbed in Barcelona came from very basic interactions with specific people as well as the city itself. This city provides you with a certain type of magic that makes you feel you’re living in a special place where anything can happen if you really want it to.
Did living in Chile for most of your life impact your aesthetic?
I was born in Costa Rica because my family was exiled, and I grew up in a military dictatorship that finished in 1989. It took ages for our society to recover our folklore culture because many of our artistic icons were killed or had to escape from Chile. Chilean society, at least when I lived there, was very closed-minded. I actually ran away because it was impossible to wear a skirt a bit too short and not be catcalled, or without hearing inappropriate words in the street. I guess that entire atmosphere influenced me as human being; it made me truly wish to move to another place where I could live free, and that decision completely changed my life.
I had the opportunity to study at a design school, and I have many nice memories of that time. But until last December, I hadn’t returned to my country more than twice in fourteen years and honestly I was very confused about what being Chilean meant, a cultural identity that I’m glad to rediscover again.
I didn’t grow up in a rich environment so I always like showing imperfect situations. I never really liked the appearance of luxury and I think I probably got that from where I grew up. I love to find a balance between pure and also poor or rough materials or to show how messy my place is… I can be very clean and purist and professional at work, but I also like to express that it is not really my intent to show how perfect my aesthetic is.
Where does the name Matagalán originate?
There’s a Latin American expression that translates to “a wallet kills the gallant.” In our culture, that means that the man with the most money in his pocket always gets the most beautiful woman, defeating the gallant. From that I began to think about topics surrounding the idea of a “gallant,” who usually gives chocolates and flowers, and creates cliché situations by which to conquer a woman. “Matar al galán” means, “to kill the gallant.” I have always loved the power of the expression, and I wanted to use it related to something as fragile as flowers. I also liked the idea of killing the idea of buying or giving flowers or plants only for special occasions. A deep thought for a simple brand, no?
If you could pick three words to describe your work, what would they be?
Conceptual. Transitive. Universal.
As a designer, I really enjoy the process of creating an object, starting from a drawing and experiencing how concepts and ideas become tangible and end up in a shape that is not only beautiful but also functional.
Four years ago when I started, I used to be very simple and neutral. I didn’t want to use any color. I wasn’t in the mood to use shiny paints or anything like that. I’m not sure how this happened, but in the last year, I started to use color like crazy and now I can’t stop. I love taking risks with colors, taking color combinations to the edge of kitsch or bad taste.
Then flowers appeared on the scene and I feel I finally have enough tools to create a whole new universe built not only with objects but also with living materials. I hope to be able to keep improving my creativity in the future and never stay in a comfort zone.
What project are you currently working on?
I just received a selection of new vases, and I love them all. I’m constantly making new designs, experimenting with new colors and flowers, doing photo shoots, or making useless installations at home.
I never thought I would be mixing design and floral art. My work lately is taking on an art facet that I love. Actually, I made a private installation for a world renowned car company in December inspired by The Garden of Delight “El Bosco.” I’m also collaborating with some women in Barcelona; secret plans that I can’t mention yet.
What’s your dream project?
I would love to own a huge warehouse in the countryside where anyone could come and collaborate together. In that place there would be plenty of tools and machines and materials to work with like wood, ceramic, crystal, paints, whatever.
I would love to know how to use them all and to be able to experiment with any type of material. I’d also love to have infinite resources to make real all the things I have in my head. And in this space, I’d love to have my own glass house to grow different plants and flowers there, too.
What’s your favorite piece of design from the last 10 years and why?
This might sound silly, but I don’t see myself as being able to choose anything relevant right now. I became a mother in 2006, and before giving birth, I used to be on top of the latest design and art. But right now I’m not really up on current contemporary design. I really appreciate the old days when it was really hard to be different and the people who made changes were so genuine; no Internet, no copies. True pioneers!