Mushroom Musings

The artist Aaron Angell (born 1987) graduated with a BA from Slade School of Art in 2011 and now lives and works in London. He set up Troy Town Art Pottery in 2013, a radical and psychedelic ceramic studio for artists (rather than ‘potters’). He mainly produces ceramic sculptures, wall drawings and paintings. Troy Town is the first sculpture-specific pottery in the UK. They work with 15 (approx) contemporary practising artists a year to produce ceramic sculptures using traditional and innovative processes such as wood and gas kilns. All glazes and some clay bodies are produced in house.

The small-scale ceramic landscape Popular Peacetime Saw (2013) on display in Gallery 2, GoMA is full of imagination, magic and mushrooms. You could just imagine little elves and fairies residing there. This was the inspiration to delve deeper into the (unknown) world of mushrooms. 

Mushrooms as a motif appear often in Aaron Angell’s work – why? He says: ‘mushrooms are an expressive weirdness in the landscape – I like how they don’t really seem to sit comfortably on this planet’. 

Aaron had a solo show in GoMA in 2017 Aaron Angell Gallery 1 in the centre of the space was Glasgow Museums’ ‘Wardian Case’. Victorian fern cases such as this one protected rare and tender plants imported to Britain from overseas. Displayed for the first time in nearly forty years, and restored especially for the exhibition, the case was fully planted with ferns and mosses as it would have been in the nineteenth century. The modern day equivalent is a terrarium, a sealable glass container containing soil and plants. The sealed container combined with the heat entering the terrarium allows for the creation of a small scale water cycle. Find out how to make your own version here.

Why do mushrooms tend to signify magical landscapes, something otherworldly? They often feature in fairytales and children’s stories, the most notable one being Alice in Wonderland. This fantasy novel of 1865 was originally entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. It was written by the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, using the pseudonym Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). A short excerpt from the book featuring the mushroom:

‘There was a large mushroom near her, about the same height as herself, and when she had looked under it, and on both sides of it, it occurred to her to look and see what was on the top of it.

She stretched herself up on tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom and her eyes immediately met those of a large caterpillar, which was sitting with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the least notice of her or of anything else.

For some time they looked at each other in silence: at last the caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and languidly addressed her.

“Who are you?” said the caterpillar.’

Coincidently, a collection of Peter Blake’s 1970 screenprints for the same story are currently in storage at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Glasgow. Peter Blake (born 1932) is an English Pop artist best known for his record sleeve design for the Beatles 1960s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Contemporary artists today such as BEEPLE continue to emulate magical landscapes using a whole host of digital tools and tricks. Beeple is Mike Winkelmann, a graphic designer from Charleston, USA who does a variety of digital artwork including short films, Creative Commons VJ loops, everydays and VR / AR work.  He has worked on concert visuals for Justin Bieber, One Direction and Katy Perry. One of the originators of the current “everyday” movement in 3D graphics, he has been creating a picture everyday from start to finish and posting it online for over ten years without missing a single day. He went on to sell this ‘digital art piece’ for 69.3 million dollars! a record amount money paid for a new but booming category of art called nonfungible tokens or NFTs. It quickly places the artist known as Beeple in a rarified world previously occupied only by artists creating physical work.“Everydays: The First 5,000 Days”

BEEPLE ‘FLUFF’ (free VJ Loop)

Why is so little known about mushrooms? Fungi are a group of living organisms which are classified in their own kingdom. This means they are not animals, plants, or bacteria. Unlike bacteria, which have simple cells, fungi have complex cells like animals and plants. When we think of fungi, we probably think of mushrooms. But mushrooms are only fruiting bodies, analogous to apples on a tree. Most fungi live out of sight, yet make up a massively diverse kingdom of organisms that support and sustain nearly all living systems. 

To find out more read Merlin Sheldrake ‘Entangled Life’. He explores the hidden world, from yeast to psychedelics and uncovers unbelievable facts including that fungi are the largest, oldest living organisms on the planet and they can influence the weather. 

If you are looking for a soundtrack to play in the background as you find out more about mushrooms, Aaron Angell plays a vinyl-only monthly selection of music from his collection – usually focussing on guitar soli, privately pressed UK folk, psychedelia, and the occult new age on NTS radio.

These themes of ‘mushrooms’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ have also recently been the focus of exhibitions in London. The first at Somerset House: ‘Mushrooms: the Art and Design, and Future of Fungi’ and recently opened at the V&A: Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser.

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