Magical Mushrooms: Where Art and Nature Meet
By Danielle Reisman
“All of the answers are in nature." - Eileen Roscina Richardson
When the forces of nature and art are combined, a perpetual sense of healing is created. Studies show that going for a walk outside, driving through the mountains, or simply having a plant in an office, is known to reduce stress, anger, muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. Artmaking is also known to have profound benefits on human physical, mental, and spiritual well-being because it allows individuals to re-discover their identity, tap into their creativity, and awaken their body and mind. When people are given the opportunity to create, it gives them a sense of control, a voice, and a purpose in the midst of chaotic times.
The multimedia Denver-based artist Eileen Richardson brings art and nature together to offer a fresh perspective on how we can heal ourselves, others, and the environment. Richardson’s intention is, “to propose a radical therapeutic evaluation of the natural world.” She wants people to consider the evolution of society and their purpose on the planet by having a healthier relationship with technology and developing a stronger connection to the world around them.
In her series This Is What It Looks Like To Change Your Mind, Richardson transforms Reishi mushrooms into twisted zig zag forms that represent Richardson’s fascination with natural remedies, ephemerality, the evolution of time, and human wants versus needs. The artist discovered Reishi mushrooms in her research as a nutritional therapist and has personally experimented with the benefits of the fungi for several years. When she learned that Reishi mushrooms are phototrophic organisms- they grow in the direction of the light source- she decided to use them as an artistic medium. Richardson manipulated the mushroom's growth by altering the position of the lightsource toward which they grow. The title of the series was inspired by the switchback design of the mushrooms. Each change in direction represents a moment when she changed her mind on the light sources location. The act of manipulating and pausing the growth of wild mushrooms allows Richardson to create a physical manifestation of her artistic intention- to slow down and realize that the simplest things are the most profound.
Eileen Roscina Richardson, This is What it Looks Like to Change your Mind #2, Reishi Mushroom, gold, glass and sawdust, 18''x 12''
Eileen Roscina Richardson, This is What it Looks LIke to Change your Mind #1, Reishi Mushroom, gold, glass, and sawdust, 18''x
Reishi mushrooms not only represent a personal source of healing for Richardson, they also symbolize a deeper sociological concept. Some of her mushrooms rest on a wooden stump that is covered in gold leaf, which creates a compelling dichotomy. Gold leaf is a highly valued entity in our society that contributes nothing to human wellness or environmental health, this contrasts with Reishi mushrooms, an underappreciated fungi that distributes infinite sustenance to all living things. This juxtaposition forces us to think about and re-prioritize what we value as a culture, including western medicine. Through her artwork, Richardson aims to evoke a sense of curiosity about alternative healing methods and influence people to think differently about their healing processes. In the words of the artist, “all of the answers are in nature.”
In addition to natural remedies, Richardson strongly believes in the therapeutic benefits of artmaking due to its empowering and ritualistic experience. Establishing a ritual or a routine gives people a sense of control over their lives, which helps alleviate the stress, pain, and anxiety. For Richardson, nature is her church. Whether she is picking flowers from her mother’s garden, gathering sticks on a nature walk, or growing Reishi mushrooms in her home, the process of gathering materials for her work is a meditative and ritual experience that leads to healing through spirituality.
Eileen Roscina Richardson, This is What it Looks Like to Change Your Mind #2, 18''x 12''
Eileen in her studio.
As a teacher, Richardson promotes her young art students to be persistent and present in their work. Many of her students come from troubled families and stressful home situations, so Richardson integrates nature walks and organic materials into her curriculum to encourage them to slow down and appreciate the little things.
We often disregard the true healing powers of nature and forget that the environment is the original source of modern day medicinal and pharmaceutical practices. Simply seeing, smelling, touching, or hearing the natural environment has a profound impact. Richardson’s ability to integrate art and nature is just one example of how this powerful combination can improve someone’s quality of life and make a difference in the world. Although she is not an art therapist, Richardson certainly works like one by encouraging consistency, spiritual development, and connection to nature through artmaking.