May 15, 2014


958_The Surface of a Mushroom

I came across these amazing photographs of mushrooms by Steve Axford, a photographer living in Australia. What astonishes me is that even though I have been alive over 50 years there is still so much to see. Just peering into this world of mushrooms fills me with wonder. The colors, textures, the forms are to die for.

I know I am probably not alone in my awe of these photographs.

I work with many artists and in our discussion about sources of inspiration, Nature is always on the top of the list. Why? Is our attraction to Nature because it is the surrounding environment that sustains us? Is it in our genetic make up to like a flower because of the nourishment, the fruit that often follows? Is it about survival? I think we are hard wired to be attracted to anything that make us feel vital and alive.  I guess that varies from person to person. I know that I am very inspired by Nature, so much so that if I am not experiencing it daily, not just in my environment but in my art as well, I just don’t feel entirely myself.

I no longer paint particular images from nature, such as birds or plants, but I definitely have hung on to its textures. Looking at this red mushroom, for example, I see a gorgeous color, but the texture and surface is also phenomenal. If I could get this kind of surface, this matte, dusty burnished luster I would need little else in my work. Just one giant square painting of this in an interior space would be amazing.

However, surfaces like this are difficult to create. Nature does it over time, with rain, sun and countless forces that shift and richen a surface over time. A polished beach stone, its perfect luster only becomes so with the endless tumbling action of the sea.

When a surface, whether it be a stone or a work of art, when it is right, when it is seductively rich it makes us want to touch it. There is a reason why we stop and pick up beach stones, hold them in our hands and bring them home.

I am beginning to understand, at least in making art, that in order to begin to approach these surfaces like those found in Nature, it is necessary to use some of the same strong forces that Nature utilizes.

Mostly it is doing something erosive – a wearing away of a surface with some means that isn’t entirely controllable. I have used large disc sanders, enormous squeegees, steel brushes and even car polishing tools and waxes to try to get surfaces that begin to mimic what is found in Nature. In a way, these strong external forces being applied with sanders and polishers are the same, only possibly faster, as what is found in Nature. The slow erosive quality of seasonal rains on a surface, a swift moving river that polishes the stones within it or even the glacially polished granite in the Sierras that took millions of years to accomplish can be reproduced somewhat, much quicker, with some mechanical means. Even a piece of sandpaper can produce remarkable surfaces.

Incorporating a mindset of utilizing some out of control, larger than life forces, inviting the possibility for this expressive, physical change to occur in your art, seems to me, to be an exciting addition to the more traditional way of slowly applying paint with a paintbrush again and again till completion. The combination perhaps, the juxtaposition of both, using an 18 in. cement trowel to apply paint as well as a ½” sable hair paintbrush just seems more exciting and certainly carries within it some enticing unknown potentiality.

What forces do you use, natural or otherwise to create your art?

Inquisitively, Nicholas

Nicholas Wilton

Hi! I’m
Nicholas Wilton
the founder of Art2Life.

With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.

Join me and artists from all over the world in our Free Art2Life Artists Facebook Group or learn more here about Art2Life.

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