A crop from Seana Gavin´s piece “Land of the midnight mushrooms”
“I create fantasy, hand-cut collages which usually come in the form of otherworldly landscapes and environments. I’m inspired by science fiction, Hieronymus Bosch, nature, dreams and different states of consciousness, where the rules of reality do not apply.” – Seana Gavin
I discovered Seana Gavin right at the start of creating Funga when I was researching all things mushrooms. I reached out to Seana on the off chance she would speak to me about her work. To my great surprise and luck, she answered. Below you can read our interview.
“I usually start with a theme or a vision in mind. Then, I pull together a pile of potential imagery. I have my own personal library of material, some of which is filed into folders so it is easier to find. For example, ‘body parts’ or ‘plants and trees’. I then loosely start to cut things out and start playing around with compositions and how objects relate to each other, sometimes changing the scale of things to give them a different meaning. A colour scheme and mood will start to form. The rest is quite an intuitive process and comes together in an organic way.”
(Seana Gavin about her work)
As a child, Seana lived in Woodstock, New York, because her father was American. At nine, she moved back to London and has resided in England ever since. You can find her portfolio here or look her up on instagram.
Can you tell me about your journey as an artist?
It has been quite a long journey. From the moment I was born, it was evident that I was creative and visual since all I wanted to do was draw and paint.
I went to the Chelsea School of Art, where I did a couple of years of foundation, after which I got into Camberwell College of Art for a drawing degree. Unfortunately, art school was not quite what I hoped it would be, and I didn’t have the best experience. They tried to fail me several times, and I had a horrible bullying teacher. I fought for it, though, and in the end, I got my degree.
I think nowadays, they prepare you more for a career after art school, but back then, it was very much, “What do I do now?” I didn’t make any art for years after leaving Camberwell because the overthinking side of art school blocked me creatively.
Ten years later, my sister was the one to suggest the medium of collage to me. I remember sitting down to make my first collage, and I had the same sensations and feelings I had when I was five years old, building a Lego city, which I used to do for hours. It was that same type of joy of being creative that came back without overanalyzing and felt like a very instant thing. Straight away, I made a fantasy, surreal, sci-fi, psychedelic landscape. If you sum up my work, it would fit into those realms.
How quickly did your career progress after you started making art?
I didn’t look at other collage artists; I wanted to create my own style and approach and didn’t want it to feel like I was copying. I never actually thought anyone would look at my pieces… it was something just for me, my creative outlet. I was lucky because, quite early on, I was offered a solo exhibition. It certainly made up for lost time, as there was nothing for ten years, and then things quickly caught up with themselves.
The exhibition was well received, and I got some good press. After that, my work started circulating online, after which I made a series inspired by Heaven and Hell, the Bible, and Hieronymus Bosch’s visions. At that point, collage was not a big thing, and I always felt like an outsider and like I never really fit into the obvious art world scene. I was making what I liked and connected to, not what I thought would make me the most money. The people that like my work understand and appreciate that.
There was a small exhibition at a gallery called galeriepcp in Paris called “Champignons.” It was a group mushroom show in 2017, where a selection of my works were included. In 2019, my sister Francesca, a curator, was approached by Somerset House for exhibition ideas and they loved the mushroom concept. That is how the Somerset exhibition “Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi” came about. That really brought the biggest audience to my work.
I was very surprised by that because I was not expecting it. That show had a thousand visitors daily and great press and suddenly became this mushroom explosion. Before that show, I hadn’t realized how many people were interested in mushrooms – the healing side of it, environmentally and microdosing, has become more and more of a thing. That was the point where there were suddenly mushrooms everywhere.
The mushroom is such a present feature in your work. What is the reason behind it?
Mushrooms are always appearing in my work from the beginning, starting about eleven twelve years ago.
I often included mushrooms in those worlds because I associate them with fantasy, fairytales, and science-fiction films I saw as a kid. You’d always have these giant mushrooms in the landscapes and environments. I am not trying to create real places; they are imaginary things from my mind or connect to different levels and states of consciousness, like dreams and psychedelic experiences. That is also why I often play around with the scale, making the mushrooms oversized to give a surreal element.
Since the Somerset House show, I have had so many more people ask and interview me about mushrooms. There is so much intrigue, and as a result, it has made me think more about them as a material because, as mentioned, to begin with, my interest was very aesthetic because they visually fascinate me – the variety, the form, the colors. It is truly incredible that nature produces such things. There is also something very alien-like about them. I believe that is why so many other artists are also inspired by mushrooms and fungi.
Have you had big psychedelic experiences that have influenced your work?
When you analyze my work, there is very clearly a psychedelic overtone to how it looks. Anyone who has done psychedelics in their life will look at my landscapes and recognize that the person who made those has also experienced that.
Growing up in London, I started experimenting with drugs at quite a young age, thirteen or fourteen. That’s when I got into the free party rave movement. Sadly, the first drug I ever had was not mushrooms but acid. It wasn’t the most positive experience for me. I have had quite a lot of bad acid trips, actually, which definitely left an imprint on my mind and opened up my imagination. Even though it was not the most positive experience, I am grateful to it for what it’s done to my mind, and luckily I came out the other end.
Nowadays, it feels like there are a lot of mushrooms around, and I often get offered them in social situations. If I were young now, I would try it as it is a better way to start. Absolutely natural instead of chemical. I also watched the film Fantastic Fungi, which was so inspiring. The way they filmed the psychedelic experience made me wish I could have had that experience.
Because of the few bad acid trips I had, I decided to stay away from psychedelics because I knew I would immediately get anxious and have panic attacks. If you feel like that, it is going to go bad. I am also prone to overthinking and getting on quite a deep level, so I felt I didn’t need psychedelics to expand my mind. But you can see in my work that the experience has left its mark.
Do you have an artwork that stands out regarding personal meaning or story?
One that is part of the earlier mushroom pieces I made comes to mind. It’s called Fairyville and is a homage to the Victorian painter Richard Dadd. For me, it really has a feeling of my childhood. Richard Dadd had mental health problems; he had schizophrenia and ended up in a mental home, but he did lots of lovely paintings with little fairies. Fairyvillage is based on his picture “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.” He had serious imagination! As a child, I used to have a postcard of it and looked at it often.
The artwork that I made also really connects to growing up in Woodstock. When I was there, it definitely had leftovers from the 1969 festival. There were many trippy references everywhere, and everyone I went to school with was called Rainbow and Sky. It’s still a hippy town, although it’s changed and has become similar to the Hamptons because it’s a New York City weekend getaway. When I was there, it was just some tiny little town that no one knew about.
Woodstock was actually built on an Indian burial ground, and there was a curse that white men shouldn’t construct there. So historically, there have been many strange sightings of little people, spaceships, ghosts, and all kinds of other crazy stuff. As a child, I saw a few things myself which has definitely inspired some of my work. A couple stories are too weird to tell, but I encountered some elves and fairies as a child. So that’s why that piece is quite personal to me.
I am also quite attached to the Galactic mushroom highway. Someone bought the original a year ago, and obviously, you are happy to sell a work, but occasionally you’re more connected to certain pieces and are sad when they leave. But it went to a good home and to someone who will appreciate it, which makes me feel better.
Are you going to continue making mushroom collages?
I mix it up because you need variety. However, after that Somerset House show, it became apparent that people loved those works, and there is still so much interest surrounding mushrooms, so it is definitely something I will continue. Currently, a selection of that exhibition is being shown in Porto at the Serralves Museum. The show is called “The Art of Mushrooms.”
I have also been asked to take place in a group exhibition that is opening in Stockholm. These mushroom exhibitions keep continuing.
I understand the fascination. Mycelium is like an underground network that connects all plants and trees, which enables them to communicate. Apparently, without that, plants couldn’t grow. So really it gives life but fungi also helps break things down. Mushrooms symbolize the cycle of life and death. Now there are more and more experiments with them as a material alternative to plastic and even building materials. I read the other day that Nasa is looking into mycelium bricks as an option for constructing on Mars, and there was even a fungus found at Chernobyl that is said to be able to absorb radiation and can also do the same in the body with cancerous tumors. It’s like the portal was opened, and now more and more stuff is being found out.
If you could choose to exist as a plant, which one would it be?
It would definitely be some kind of a tree. They are alive and sometimes have very human forms. It’s a difficult question, but I keep thinking of my favorite tree in Hampstead Heath, a Hollow Tree. I have been visiting it since I was a kid. It is hundreds of years old and is like a cave, with a big hollowed bit in the middle you can climb inside. I would always sit in that tree, which had little windows you could look out of. To be that tree would be quite amazing because you would have all these different people sitting inside you. I’d still feel very connected to humans and have a lot of interactions.