Vancouver artist Paula Grasdal’s strange, tenacious ‘Spore’

Vancouver artist Paula Grasdal zooms in on the mushroom in latest show.

Credit: Hilary Henegar

Vancouver mixed media artist Paula Grasdal

Vancouver artist Paula Grasdal zooms in on the mushroom in considering ‘Natural Diversity’ on Granville Island

For Vancouver artist Paula Grasdal, the natural world is a chaotic place. One requiring order and interpretation as much as life and death. And it is through the lens of the lowly mushroom spore that she translates the mystery of it all in her latest series of monoprints, ‘Spore’, which opens as part of a group show entitled Natural Diversity at the Dundarave Print Workshop and Gallery on Granville Island Thursday, June 18, 2010.

The show features four artists all working on similar themes of nature, biodiversity and the interrelationship of complex organisms. Interpretations range from the microscopic to the more panoramic, with works from marine biologist and artist Barb Snyder, as well as Jenny Hards, Rosalind Rorke and Grasdal.

Dundarave Print Workshop & Gallery

1640 Johnston St, Granville Island, Vancouver

Natural Diversity runs through July 11, 2010.

“We make sense of the world through pattern,” says Grasdal. “I use pattern, images reminiscent of growth and decay, and organic forms to convey the idea of transformation.”

Originally inspired by the documentary Know Your Mushrooms by Ron Mann, which screened with a director Q&A at Vancity Theatre last fall, Grasdal was compelled by the mushroom’s alien-like quality to somehow interpret its strangeness at a microscopic level, if however abstractly.

“A microbiologist wouldn’t look at my work and go, ‘those are spores!’” she says. “But I was interested in exploring cycles in nature on a microscopic level—it’s a fascinating world that is normally hidden.”

Besides, she adds, “Spores are pretty tenacious! They’re survivors.”

All the works in the show consider the integrity of natural, interrelated systems of species but use quite different styles and methods of printmaking, including Grasdal’s monoprinting, a process very close to painting, where she paints directly onto the printing plate and then makes the prints from that, using water-soluble paints and layers and layers of rice paper.

'Spore' by Vancouver artist Paula Grasdal

Three pieces in Paula Grasdal’s ‘Spore’ series appearing in the group show Natural Diversity at Dundarave Print Workshop and Gallery on Granville Island through July 11, 2010.

The organic nature of her media conveys a deep-seated respect for the natural environment, a subject she’s turned to often in her 25 years as an artist. Her last show at Dundarave in Fall 2009 featured scenes of kelp, jellyfish and other elements of the local marine environment in rice-paper collage.

“I started working in monoprinting 10 years ago because I wanted to do printmaking that was non-toxic. I didn’t want to use solvents, and I like the look of rice paper because it’s translucent,” says the former painter, whose work has always tended toward collage. She was featured in the book Mixed-Media Collage: An Exploration of Contemporary Artists, Methods, and Materials, in which she illustrated a printmaking technique for a collage.

Grasdal joined the Dundarave Print Workshop collective after she moved back to Vancouver from Boston six years ago and has enjoyed the support she gets from being a part of such a strong community of artists.

Located on Granville Island since the 1979, and in a West Vancouver garage for eight years before that, Dundarave is the oldest print shop in Vancouver. And it’s funded completely by membership dues and sales in the shop and receives no government funding.

“As long as [Dundarave keeps] the member numbers up, it’s sustainable,” she says.

Of the Vancouver art scene, Grasdal says, “There’s certainly a lot of incredibly talented artists here. And it’s an atmosphere that’s conducive to creativity. A lot of people really appreciate art in Vancouver.”

But it’s the cohesion of the artist community that is most impressive, she says. “I think it’s a pretty tight-knit community because, you know, you have the East Side Culture Crawl and all of those studios banding together for that event—and that takes a lot of organization.

“I used to be at 901 Main, which was a studio slated for development [into condos], but a group of the painters there got together and lobbied city council and they got another space on Powell and McLane [called Portside Studios]. So my impression is that artists here [in Vancouver] are willing to work together.”