Lichen Portraits

Lichens fly under the radar, blending into the background of life. Painting ‘portraits’ of these creatures feels like making the unseen, seen. This is essentially the work of an artist, whatever the subject.

I began painting lichens in 2017 and it has developed into an ongoing project. Wherever I go, I fall a little in love with lichens that I meet. Interestingly, they are usually a combination of fungi and bacteria, producing their own nutrients through photosynthesis. They don’t have roots and can grow in the most extreme of environments, on surfaces, ranging from granite rock to bark, from which they hang. They are simultaneously adaptable and particular. They thrive as pioneers in rapidly changing environments and are also some of the oldest creatures on earth. They are effective indicators of environmental health, particularly of air pollution.

The paintings are not intended as botanical studies, but as translations into paint, with allowances for favouritism and obsession. There is something primal about this life form. A friend said they made her think of the beginnings of life; another said that perhaps it is the fractal patterns that we find absorbing. Whatever it is, my viewers also develop personal attachments to these strange organisms, and the fact that they are obscure combinations of fungus and bacteria fades away. Perhaps it is the naming process that helps. This is the fun part. Somehow, each one has the right title and it is a matter of exploring my own mind until I find the one that fits. The successful titles are usually tongue-in-cheek with a hint of something more.