Mindful Mushrooms

Photographer and collage artist Seana Gavin on how nature and the fantastical inspire her psychadelic mushroom collages and how making art has been a mindful practice for her throughout the pandemic.

As told to Lichen Journal, text has been slightly edited and formated by Mirabella Shahidullah for clarity

Seana Gavin in her studio, photograph courtesy of the artist

Where did your artistic journey start and how did you begin to focus primarily on the mediums of collaging and photography?

I did my foundation at Chelsea then completed a Visual Arts Drawing degree at Camberwell college of Art.  I didn't have the best experience of art school as my teachers were pushing us into a conceptual direction and I just wanted to improve my drawing skills. When I left art school, I felt quite disheartened and [after] I spent many years not making any work, I felt I had to start with a clean slate. Then my sister suggested I try collage and it was a very immediate thing for me [...] collage brought back the enjoyment of creating again without over analysing. I was lucky to be given the opportunity of a solo show of a Heaven and Hell series I created quite early on in my collage career which led to an expanded audience and everything grew from there.

With photography, I chose it as an elective as part of my course [at Camberwell] which is when I got my first manual film camera. During that period of time outside of my studies I was heavily involved in the underground free party movement. I would spend my summer holidays attending free parties and underground raves across Europe, travelling in friends’ mobile homes and living nomadically alongside the sound systems. I was lucky to have my camera with me and documented my friends and environments around me during that time. Since then, I have always enjoyed photography, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that these photographs were first shown to the public in my solo exhibition ‘Spiral Baby’ in Paris in 2019. Which lead to a selection being exhibited in group show Sweet Harmony at The Saatchi gallery. Followed by the release of my book in summer 2020 Spiralled published by IDEA books.

Mushroom city

Mindful Mushroom

What inspired you to create a series where mushrooms were the main characters?

Mushrooms have appeared in my work since I first began creating collage pieces. I have always found them fascinating, I love the endless variety of colours and forms they appear in. I guess the more I studied them I started to see them like people with different personalities, shapes and skin tones, so [I] started an ongoing series of mushroom portraits. More than anything I just find them really fun to make! I think people really connect to them because subconsciously they are attracted to the familiarity of something that looks human.

The collages in Mushrooms feel like their own psychedelic and fantastical micro-worlds. How much does the psychedelic and fantasy influence your art, and why?

At the core of my collage work I am creating other worldly landscapes and environments. I am interested in different states of consciousness where the rules of reality do not apply [...] I’m also inspired by ideas of life on other planets as well as thoughts of future worlds. Mushrooms often become part of those environments. I guess I have always associated mushrooms and fungi with fantasy environments from childhood fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland and old science fiction films.  I spent my childhood in Woodstock upstate NY, which definitely left its mark on me. The town was covered in psychedelic references left over from the 1969 festival. I was also obsessed with looking at my father’s vintage science fiction graphic novels and books of 60s visionary art. Then later as a teenager in London I did experiment with psychedelic drugs which may be where I get some of my imagination from!

“In a way, I feel nature and the botanical world connect us to a universal consciousness. Especially now throughout the pandemic, moments in nature have been what has kept us grounded.”

Seana Gavin

Other recurring themes of your collages include elements of the natural world and historical ritual, have nature and ritual always been inspirational for your work?

In a way, I feel nature and the botanical world connect us to a universal consciousness. Especially now throughout the pandemic, moments in nature have been what has kept us grounded. Even though I spent most of my formative years in London, having spent my childhood in Woodstock surrounded by the wildlife of the Catskill mountains meant that I have always been a nature lover at heart. Some of my favourite London locations to visit are the city’s botanical gardens such as Kew and the indoor conservatory at the Barbican Centre. The places I physically experience inspire the landscapes I create in my work.

In 2014 I had a solo show ‘End Times,’ where I was interested in theories of time throughout different eras, cultures and religions. I created a series of visions combining references from ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs and Ancient Greeks with ideas about future worlds, which coexisted in the present. These themes have carried on filtering into my work.


Galactic Mushroom Highway

You recently led a ‘Mindful Mushroom’ virtual collage workshop with Somerset House, how has collaging been a mindful practice for you this year?

I feel very lucky and grateful to have a creative outlet during this year of lockdowns. When I’m in the studio making work, I feel as if I go into a meditative state. I lose awareness of other things around me and I’m 100% focused so there isn’t room to think about anything else. During this pandemic it has been a saving grace as it has helped to soften an anxiety or fears of the virus and what is going on in the outer world.

Mushroom art and publications such as documentaries and books about fungi have been increasingly popular this year within the art and science worlds. Why do you think there is such a successful reception to fungi art now?

To be honest it wasn't until the group  Mushrooms at Somerset house launched that I realised how popular mushrooms had become. The show had such a broad spectrum of at least 1000 visitors a day and so much press attention. 

Mushrooms are definitely having a moment. Particularly now with awareness of global warming when the science and design world are seeking ecological and sustainable materials. I’ve also become aware of mushrooms now being used more and more in beauty products and health supplements. It also seems to coincide with a revival in magic mushroom consumption. Overall mushrooms and fungi are one of nature’s incredible inventions and I’m sure they will continue to surprise us with their intelligence and magical ways.

Text has been slightly edited and formatted for clarity. Mushroom collages and photograph of Seana Gavin in her studio courtesy of the artist. To see more of Seana Gavin’s work visit her website or her Instagram.

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