“I’m not the first person to say it, and I’m not going to be the last, but when you find out how integral fungi are to our existence, it makes everything else feel insignificant,” says Max Mudie, whose foraging expeditions reveal the otherworldly elegance, diversity, and minutiae of the myriad denizens of the “wood wide web.” Documenting a range of fungi and slime molds living in the U.K., the Sussex-based photographer is fascinated by the sheer breadth of colors, sizes, and textures he encounters in both rural and urban spaces. “I like to try and find as many species as possible,” he tells Colossal. “The more obscure, the better.”
Mudie’s lifelong love for mushrooms blossomed when he moved back to a rural area around five years ago, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity to forage, document, and cultivate specimens. He regularly joins a local group of amateur mycologists on walks to find and identify different types, and a recent highlight included documenting a bioluminescent species. Even with more than 140,000 types of fungi on record around the world, new discoveries are made all the time. He loves the thrill of stumbling across species that are rare or aren’t listed in textbooks, which requires some sleuthing and team effort to identify. “I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of such a vast subject,” he says. “Many species out there are yet to be described, meaning there’s lots of work to be done—making this, for me, one of the most exciting subjects to focus on.”
In many cases, the specimens Mudie encounters are so tiny that powerful macro lenses are required to capture their intricate details. He often shares behind-the-scenes footage of his finds on Instagram, where you can also follow updates about upcoming print releases and events.
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The natural patterns of turning tides and changing seasons illuminate the delicate porcelain sculptures of Martha’s Vineyard-based artist Jennifer McCurdy. Responding to the shifts of island life—and “island time”—she draws inspiration from the surrounding environment and organic forms, like “the cracked conch shell on the beach revealing its perfect spiral to the milkweed pod burst in the field, its brilliant airborne seeds streaming into the sunlight,” she explains in a statement. Her wheel-thrown porcelain vessels capture both subtle and dramatic shifts in light and shadow, mimicking waves, gales, smoke, and flames.
In 2020, when, like many, McCurdy was obliged to slow down and approach her studio practice under the constraints of canceled exhibitions, she seized the opportunity to re-evaluate her own work, telling Colossal that “once my panic receded, I settled into the mindset of the sabbatical, exploring new forms and testing different carving patterns in the porcelain for optimal movement in the firing.” She broadened the questions she asked of her process and the influence it took from nature, such as how the rocks and shoreline met the surrounding sea or whether she could generate the energy of constant movement in her sculptures. “I think the direction of my work did not change, but it gained clarity from focusing on the space between and around each form,” she says.
McCurdy uses a translucent porcelain that she first shapes on a potter’s wheel and then manipulates, slices, or molds to create a sense of motion, often with a swirling or spiraling effect. A series of “pattern studies” highlight dynamic cuts that extend and slump with the assistance of gravity when fired upside-down in a kiln heated to cone ten—or 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit. With the addition of gold or platinum leaf on the interior, which is applied by the artist’s long-time collaborator, former sign painter, and husband Tom McCurdy, the vessels reflect light and evoke warmth, as if formed around a heat source
McCurdy’s work will be on display in Florida at Art Wynwood and The Palm Beach Show with Steidel Fine Art from February 16 to 19. In May, she will also exhibit in the Smithsonian Craft + Design Show in Washington, D.C. Find more on her website and Instagram.
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Dappled with French knots, glinting materials, and pieces of moss, botanical embroideries by Julia Shore replicate the forest floor’s supple textures in fiber and beads. The Los Angeles-based artist also uses hand-dyed velvet, wool, felt, and sequins to add a variety of hues ranging from emerald green to golden yellow. “I tried to capture its intricacy—all the different shades and forms of moss; its soft and calming nature,” she says.
Shore’s next series of moss pieces will be released on Etsy in February. She shares embroidery tutorials on YouTube and has kits and downloadable patterns available for purchase on her website. You can also follow more updates on Instagram.
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From large pieces of basswood, artist Christian Verginer carves figurative sculptures that meld the play and wonder of adolescence with the vitality of the natural world. Leafy branches grow like pigtails, a bird perches on the zipper of a hoodie, and two young boys sit on ladders that lead to treetops and clouds. Textured by small gouges, the works contrast realistic renditions of children with fantastical elements, the latter of which the artist tends to paint in a single color like vibrant green, slate gray, or beige.
Verginer is broadly interested in the ways humans and nature intersect, which he conveys through a sense of curiosity and embodied connection between the two. Some sculptures foster such relationships through three-dimensional forms, like the deceased bird the girl pinches between her fingers as in “Different Stories.” Others reference shadows, including “Two Stories” and “Different Time,” which overlay silhouettes of trees and flowers atop the young figures’ bodies.
Based in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy, Verginer works in a studio he shares with his father Willy Verginer (previously) and brother Matt Verginer. Each maintains a distinct practice, although the artist shares that the environment is well-suited for feedback and critique. All three will show together this May at a gallery in Nürnberg, although you can see Christian Verginer’s work this month with Kirk Gallery at Art Herning. Otherwise, find more of his sculptures on his site and Instagram.
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The village of Sarufutsu in Hokkaido, Japan, is known for bringing in some of the country’s biggest hauls of scallops. Unfortunately, when the bivalves are processed for the food industry, they generate about 40,000 tons of discarded shells annually. The village teamed up with product design startup Quantum and plastics manufacturer Koushi to tackle the ever-mounting quantities in local landfills. Along came Hotamet—a portmanteau of “hotate” (which means scallop) and “helmet”—alternatively known as Shellmet. The marine-inspired, eco-friendly safety accessory incorporates discarded, crushed scallop shells into a protective covering.
A main component of seashells is calcium carbonate, a compound also found in hard materials like eggshells, pearls, and some rocks and minerals. Combined with recycled plastic, the substance produces a tough material that Quantum and Koushi could form into headgear. “Based on the idea of biomimicry, Shellmet incorporates a special rib structure in its design that mimics the structure of scallops, which are part of the material. As a result, we have achieved a strength approximately 33 percent greater than normal,” Quantum says.
Originally designed as a protective hat for the fishing community, Shellmet will also come in handy when Japan mandates that all bicyclists must wear protective headgear starting in April this year. You can find more information on the company’s website. (via Spoon & Tamago)
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A “pursuit of the unknown” grounds Annalise Neil’s practice. An enduring curiosity and a desire to find answers shape both her approach to and the form of her works, which layer watercolor accents atop cyanotypes. The pieces depict the unassuming and magnificent, “the tender yet muscular emergence of mushrooms from soil, the brittle and also supple curve of a snail’s shell, the translucent husk of a crinoid on the beach.”
Constructed with hundreds of hand-cut negatives, the composites veil flora and fauna in shades of blue, evoking the color’s ubiquity within the natural world and the mysteries humans have yet to uncover. Lined with yellow or rusty-colored pigments, the works feature familiar subject matter with positions and scale that veer toward the surreal: large hands descend upon an arid desert landscape, birds escape from a trio of shapes that evoke a mushroom cloud, and flowers, butterflies, and dewy spores encircle a central bloom.
These unearthly pairings allow “for a re-thinking of the human’s relationship to reality and our surroundings,” Neil shares, an impulse that also informs her desire to reconsider and better understand change and possibility. “I believe metaphor is the most effective illuminator of new concepts and is an excellent midwife for empathy. One of the most fecund qualities of the human mind is our ability to ask questions, be curious, and make adjustments.”
Neil’s solo show Holobiont is on view through March 30 at Herrick Community Health Care Library in La Mesa, California, where she lives. The artist is currently preparing for a February residency at Playa Summer Lake and will open an exhibition at Sparks Gallery in San Diego this summer. Until then, explore an archive of her cyanotype series on her site and Instagram.
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