Nature takes its course in Guralnick’s new work |

Nature takes its course in Guralnick’s new work

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Jody Guralnick's "Subject to Change: unnatural selection" will open at the Wyly Annex in Basalt on Friday evening. The show combines plant life and man-made objects coated in porcelain slip and beeswax.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go…

What: Jody Guralnick: Subject to Change: unnatural selection

Where: Wyly Annex, Basalt

The dialogue between the natural and man-made environments never quiets in the Roaring Fork Valley. The black bear in the alley Dumpster, the cottonwood piled on the sidewalk, the house amid the pines on the hillside, the intersections where concrete meets forest – they’re all constant reminders that we’ve made our home amid the raw stuff of nature.

Artist Jody Guralnick’s new body of work, premiering today at the Wyly Annex in Basalt, explores this dialogue in paintings and sculptures that combine found material from nature and civilization.

On large wood panels, she combines plant life — much of it found on the ground in the local woods — with books, plastic plants, kitchenware and other man-made objects. She’s dipped all of it in porcelain slip and coated it in beeswax, giving the swirls of detritus a universal creamy white color and skin-like texture.

“I treated everything the same way,” she said. “When I pick things up, whether it’s in a trash can, a library, a thrift store or on the land, it speaks to me.”

The exhibition, titled “Subject to Change: unnatural selection” runs through Oct. 11 at the recently opened Annex on Midland Avenue in Basalt. The Town of Basalt gave the vacant space to the Wyly Community Art Center this summer, and the nonprofit will exhibit work there for at least a year.

In one piece, she’s strung from the ceiling dipped plant life — veratrum, alium, tree branches and curly dock among them — alongside dipped plastic dolls and pots. They cast an ominous shadow against the gallery wall.

“I think of it as an inverted landscape,” she said.

Books are incorporated in a number of her works — often frozen in porcelain to give their pages the appearance of turning. Surrounded by plants, pieces of bird nests and other specimens, some look as if they’re emerging from — or being consumed by — nature.

“They’re subject to extinction like everything else,” she said of the books, “and the landscape is also changing for printed materials.”

Books, she said, also fit into the project because they contain information, like plants and seeds packed with age-old DNA.

Guralnick characterizes the new works as paintings, but it’s hard not to see them as sculptures. She’s combined her disparate elements into new hybrid objects.

In a few of the new pieces, one can see hints of Guralnick’s earlier collage work. One that stands out is “Fritz,” a piece in which she’s crafted a backdrop of envelopes taken from decades-old correspondence from New Orleans artist Fritz Bultman and overlaid it with a porcelain-dipped book by Tennessee Williams.

The show includes a series of small un-mounted pieces that freeze poppies, pine cones and other plants bunched together and caked in porcelain and beeswax.

A six-piece series, titled “Short Stories,” features single pieces from nature mounted on books.

“All of this undifferentiated stuff in the landscape, when you take it out, you see it has its own identity and its own voice,” she said.

Most of the branches, plants, pine cones and seeds in the works came from local terrain, in places like the Hunter Creek Valley and Capital Lake. Most of the books and objects came from the Aspen Thrift Shop. The project also led her to delve deeply into botany and, she said, to get more than a few bee stings, as her beeswax coating has attracted wasps and bees into her Castle Creek Road studio.