It was at an exhibition in 1998 at London’s Tryon Gallery that I first saw Alexander (Sasha) Viazmensky’s mushroom paintings.
Aside from the overall quality of the renderings, two things struck me—the less-than-perfect specimens and the seemingly random placement of “bits and pieces” of forest debris around them. Fast forward twenty-four years to the South Shore of Nova Scotia where I now live amid an abundance and variety of mushrooms and have become aware of how difficult it is to find “perfect” specimens that the slugs and squirrels haven’t found first. Imperfections (pieces bitten out) are just part of the reality of wild mushroom specimens.
And I now appreciate too that the surrounding “bits and pieces” are not random but are part of telling the story of the specimen’s environment. For instance, they are not just leaves, but leaves of specific trees that specific fungi “hang out with” in a tight bond termed “mutualism.” And the other “bits and pieces” can include additional contextual material such as fallen lichen, dried conifer needles, mosses, and seasonal items such as berries and grasses. I now find myself wanting to add them too in more complete visual story-telling.
I saw Sasha again in 2008 in Pasadena, California at an ASBA Annual Conference where he taught a workshop in which he went to great lengths to find marvelous specimens for his students. We were lucky to share a meal with him and hear first-hand some of his riveting stories about gathering and painting mushrooms in Russia.
I am delighted and grateful that Sasha, who has influenced so many botanical artists around the globe, allowed me to include three of his works in my Natural Neutrals in Watercolour workshop presentation and e-booklet.
The image above is of him with a remarkable prize found on one of his annual fishing and foraging trips deep into the woods near St. Petersburg. To the best of my knowledge, that massive mushroom is a Boletus edulis!
Sasha’s paintings and prints are available for purchase on his website which you can find by clicking here. They are delivered from a location in the USA.