Jody Guralnick’s fungi art grows at Skye Gallery in Aspen |

Jody Guralnick’s fungi art grows at Skye Gallery in Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Jody Guralnick's "The FIfth Kingdom" will be on view at the Skye Gallery through Sept. 20.
Courtesy photo


What: Jody Guralnick, ‘The Fifth Kingdom’

Where: Skye Gallery

When: Through Sept. 20

More info:

Aspen artist Jody Guralnick’s collaborators on her latest body of work have been living in the local forests for thousands of years, others have made self-portraits for her.

Her collaborators on “The Fifth Kingdom,” which runs through Sept. 20 at the Skye Gallery, are local fungi, mycelium and lichen.

“It has the sense of working with a partner,” Guralnick explained as she walked through the downtown Aspen gallery. “Not just working with a blank piece of paper and a tube of paint, but finding something in nature to work with you.”

That partnership is most evident in photographs of inky cap mushrooms, which Guralnick calls self-portraits. These local fungi are quite literally “inky,” liquefying spores as they mature and seemingly dissolving into a dark liquid. A helpful time-lapse video, shot by Guralnick over five days as she shot her photos, shows them doing their fascinating natural work — shaking and swaying and steadily bleeding ink into puddles.

“I’m finding something in nature that I can prod and push and ask to do something,” she explained.

Guralnick is training to be a master naturalist with the Forest Conservancy, specializing in lichen. This touch and slow-growing plant, she noted, can live for thousands of years. She has been studying deeply in science in recent years, continuing a career-long artistic inquiry into the natural world that she’s now girding with rigorous scientific training (last year she did a unique artists’ residency in a biology lab in New York).

Her deeply observed new work looks at the complex networks, symbiotic relationships and startling natural processes.

The show includes several large-format paintings of abstracted lichen forms. These works isolate the intricate patterns that lichen forms on rocks, hand-painted in acrylic, isolated against an juicy oil painting background. Anyone who has spent time in the local forests will recognize the patterns of the lichen and the shapes of local plantlife that surround it — crane flower pollen, horsetail and such. But few of us have looked as closely as Guralnick. On canvas, the lichen patterns look like tapestries.

“It’s all free-hand,” Guralnick said of her process on the paintings. “It was always clear where it should go, just from looking.”

“The Fifth Kingdom” also includes a handful of Guralnick’s porcelain- and wax-coated botany books, and one chunky work on canvas she’s put through the same process and pocked with plantlife.

“This is about learning all this information as I’m studying botany and teaching myself biology,” she said of the books. “About how everything is bursting with information once you start to look.”

The exhibition, running through Sept. 20, is made up of new work from Guralnick that she’s made since curating a fascinating 2017 exhibition of “bio art” at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village. These “Fifth Kingdom” pieces return her to painting, the medium on which she built her career, but which she’s moved away from in recent years as she’s delved deeper into bio art. (Guralnick is currently at work on a piece using live slime mold, attempting to coax it to follow a map of local hiking trails.)

The show is closing out the Skye Gallery’s opening summer, which also included solo exhibitions by multi-disciplinary artist Javiera Estrada and sculptor Ajax Axe. Gallerist Sky Weinglass has supplemented Guralnick’s show with curated events that range beyond the standard-issue artist talks and opening parties. The gallery organized a foraging hike in the woods with Guralnick, for instance, and will host a concert and poetry slam Sept. 5. Last month, Skye Gallery hosted a conversation between the artist and George Frampton, who served as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Assistant Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton.

“It was really interesting,” Guralnick said of the conversation. He and I are going to try to do some writing together now. There’s no clear intersection between us, except that my impulse for this work comes from nature and observation and all of his work is around environmentalism.”