Artist Jody Guralnick finds plant life “on the brink”



After his much-publicized solo exhibition “Prima Lingua” at the Denver Botanical Gardens earlier this year, Aspen artist Jody Guralnick focused on creating new works of art that would reflect the climate crisis.

The artist, whose iconic works are abstracts using patterns found in mushrooms and her beloved lichen, completed an early summer residency at the RedLine Contemporary Art Center with the aim of making paintings depicting a world and a society “on the brink”.

What she found during the residency surprised her. The unexpected results of his stay at Redline are the solo exhibition ‘On the Brink’, on display at the Skye Gallery until September 28, which includes new works and pieces on display in the Botanic Gardens exhibition and continues its artistic investigation. throughout his career on the natural world.



During the residency, Guralnick could not ignore the street encampments that proliferated around Denver and the RiNo neighborhood where she resided. Literally stepping over people on sidewalks as the early summer heatwave kept temperatures around 100 degrees, Guralnick found she couldn’t keep herself in a creative bubble.

“It was so intense, and I kept thinking, ‘How can I be reconciled that I’m in this lovely condo, going into this air conditioning,” “she recalled recently at the Skye Gallery.



In keeping with his aesthetic and botanical interests, plants have become his means of meeting the needs of the homeless and the broader ailments of our society.

“I started to study the plants where the tent camps were located,” she explained. “They were all on these sidewalks teeming with green life. It really caught my attention. “

Guralnick focused the month-long residency on studying and researching what grew among homeless people in cracks in sidewalks, under tents, sleeping bags and cardboard boxes. The most prolific of these, she found, were mulleins, opium lettuce and lamb quarters.


The abundance of these specific plants in the midst of this population with little to no resources was deep for Guralnick. Mullein and lamb quarters, for example, are being used to treat respiratory problems that sent so many people to hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. Opium lettuce, as the name suggests, contains a milky sap that can serve as a natural pain reliever. Watching drug addicts on the streets, Guralnick wondered if they’d better seek relief in this sidewalk crack lettuce.

His research also found Ethiopian lettuce and other plants that could nourish and heal people in the camps. She began to paint and explore them in intricate hand-painted patterns on rich new canvases, overwhelming large-format diptychs and tritpyques, and smaller-scale plant studies, much like she had previously explored them. lichens and flora found in the wilds of Independence Pass, the frying pan. Valley and the rugged riverside slope between his house and Castle Creek.

The street plants were neither watered nor cared for, she noted, but grew nonetheless and offered a solution that no one saw.

“What struck me was that these plants that were all over the sidewalks, with people camping out all over the place, are edible and medicinal and so important,” Guralnick explained. “There is something that we are deeply and deeply wrong. I kept thinking about how we miss a message that comes in loud and clear. “

Mineral deposits from cars and human waste likely infected many plants and rendered them inedible, but Guralnick found there was still a disturbing mismatch between the plant and human life in the neighborhood.

“I felt like I got this message, like, ‘Look, we’re growing successfully here. Who are these people who cultivate unsuccessfully here? ‘ “

Instead of embracing plants to help the homeless population, or even planting trees, the city, she noted, has put up barriers and rocks to discourage people from sleeping or living. in this public space.

“We have these plants that tell us, ‘I can successfully feed you and make your city less hot,'” she said. “And we are not listening.”

In addition to new paintings and exhibits from the Denver Botanical Gardens, “On the Brink” includes statues and books covered in vegetable porcelain.

The paintings force you to see the world around you again – whether it’s the miraculous lichen pattern you might otherwise ignore on a boulder at the edge of a trail, or the diversity of vegetation growing out of a crack. sun-drenched sidewalk – and include aesthetic surprises like a trail of seaweed rippling through a panel resembling a necklace of black pearls, or an explosion of coral fungus, or microscopic close-up pollen (which looks a lot like to the now familiar red-tipped coronavirus balls).

The works are a subtle call to action. One called “Canary in the Coal Mine”, for example, represents upland lichen that is thousands of years old, but which is shrinking due to changes in the atmosphere and acidity caused by climate change.

These life forms, argues Guralnick, have a lot to say if we are prepared to listen to them. As the artist put it: “I’m really interested in the voices of the non-human participants.

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