Fungi art with Michael Campbell

Depictions of nature are one of the most primal, if not the most primal art in human culture, From the ancient paintings found in caves portraying various fungi and plants used by our ancestors to surrealistic paintings in modernism.

Such art has evolved to today’s standards through the popularization of the Mycology field spread by authors such as Terence Mckenna and his brother Dennis Mckenna by publishing their book about growing mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe “Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide: A Handbook for Psilocybin Enthusiasts” as well as given various lectures regarding various psychedelics, most notoriously DMT, and bringing to life the Stoned Ape Theory, authors such as Paul Stamets have equally contributed to this field by publishing hours of knowledge of content in YouTube, various books, and the movie “Fantastic Fungi” alongside with various mycologists and mycology aficionados.


These works not only have also encouraged people to grow their own fungi and decided to explore their genetics birthing various modified strains that wouldn’t be found in nature otherwise, but also brought new eyes to the mycological scene, people with different ideas other than growing their mushrooms, people with an artistic vein.




Amongst them is Michael Campbell, originally from the Midwest. Michael roamed from Kansas, Arizona, and California and is currently based in Oregon. He decided to study painting in art school and then switched to sculpture in graduate school.

For twenty years, he was a teacher in the field of industrial design in San Francisco and currently is getting his new studio and beginning work for a solo exhibition at Modern Eden Gallery in SF in the spring of 2024.

Being an absolute fan of his art, I decided to reach out for an interview, which follows.


When did you first become interested in fungi?

I had my first mushroom experience when I was in my early 20’s and still living in the Midwest. It happened while I was with an artist friend on his farm, surrounded by nature. The experience was truly magical and remains vivid in my memory to this day.

I spent the entire day exploring the farm, immersing myself in nature and observing its intricate patterns. It felt as though time was accelerated, with life unfolding before my eyes like a time-lapse.

This profound first encounter with psilocybin out in nature ignited a lifelong fascination with mushrooms and the world of fungi. But it’s only been in the past decade where I really began to take a closer look at the fungi kingdom and developed more of a love for mushroom hunting and mycology.


When did you start doing your sculptures?

I’ve made art for as long as I can remember. I’ve always drawn and
been creative in some way. So when I went to university, I studied painting as an undergraduate. But I discovered that I love working with
my hands and building things more, so I switched to sculpture in graduate school. I’ve made sculpture ever since.

My three dimensional work has changed and evolved quite a bit over time. It’s only been in the past 10 years or so that I’ve devoted all my attention to the topic of fungi.


Which mushroom is your favorite and why?

I guess that would depend on the criteria for judging favorites, but the Amanita Muscaria (also called fly agaric) is easily the most visually striking mushroom with its iconic large, red cap adorned with white dots. Beyond its visual appeal, this mushroom holds a deep sense of mystery, making it a powerful metaphor to explore. It pervades much of our culture in the form of video games, Christmas ornaments, Alice in Wonderland, the Smurfs, etc. and yet much of its history remains speculative adding to its enigma.

Additionally, some have argued that the origin of Santa Claus comes from the Koryaks, an indigenous people in the Eastern regions of Russia. The Koryaks were dependent on reindeer for food and are known to have consumed the fly agaric to enter trance states and communicate with the spirit world. It’s even been suggested that the fly agaric was the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden (Chapelle de Plaincourault in France). So there’s a lot for me to work with there!




It’s impossible not to notice the religious influence in your work, how did this religious influence develop?


I know whenever I’ve gone deep with the mushroom, I’ve had a profound sense of communion with the divine and that’s often been through sensing the divinity and sacredness within nature all around me. There’s a passage from the Gospel of Thomas where Christ’s disciples ask him when the kingdom of the father will come. And Christ replies, “The kingdom of my father is spread over the earth and men do not see it.”

This to me implies that the sacred can be found everywhere, in the ordinary and mundane as well as in the extraordinary.


'Consumere Corpus Natura’ by Michael Campbell

We’ve found new ways to ‘commit sin’ in the modern era and one way is by robbing the future from our children and future generations by ignoring the ecological crisis that now literally hovers over us. The generations that follow us are left to pick up the check for our meal as we dine-and-dash on the planet.

There’s an existential loneliness that I feel and sense in others from our relationship with technology. It feels like this Frankenstein paradox where Big Tech is so thirsty to bring its creation to life, ethics are ignored and we end up with something very powerful and beyond our control. We make sacrifices to a technological Moloch with our loss of autonomy and genuine human connection to others, trading this for constant connectivity, information overload, erosion of privacy, and attention-grabbing algorithms.

Ultimately, what might seem like an odd pairing of Christ and the mushroom is really not a new idea. In John Marco Allegro’s notoriously heretical book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, he suggests that early Christianity was influenced by the use of psychoactive plants. I think this notion sparks intriguing possibilities for reinterpretation and further exploration as we move closer to decriminalizing mushrooms.

Looking ahead, I can imagine a future where psilocybin and other psychedelics will be integrated into existing religious practices. I’ve experienced this by taking part, by invitation, in a Brazilian-based church that has members here in the United States. Twice a month, the members meet to drink a psychedelic tea called ayahuasca. Together, the members share this mind-expanding brew and the experience that follows.

There’s a great sense of community and fellowship among the members and they all seem like they’re genuinely very happy people.


In some of your sculptures, there are shrooms from the Psilocybe genus, have psychedelics helped you in any form to create your works?

Yes, psilocybin has had a really positive influence on both my life and my artistic journey. The mushroom has helped me navigate through
some challenging moments including the profound loss of my parents. And the mushroom has also been a wonderful creative tool to work with. My art has grown and transformed in immeasurable ways from working with the mushroom. And for all of these gifts, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the mushroom.

There is an ‘in the know’ crowd when it comes to mushrooms and the psychedelic experience; those who have tried them and those who have not. I can recognize a fellow psychonaut immediately in the way that someone responds to my work. They know what I know. In a way, I’m collecting psychedelic artifacts and bringing them back with me to display as evidence of this strange place we sometimes visit.
Those who have experienced psychedelics are all connected in a unique way, forming a kind of secret psychedelic society. Through our
individual journeys, we have collectively peered beyond the conventional understanding of reality. We share a common bond, having glimpsed behind the veil and delved into the depths of consciousness. This shared experience unifies us, as we collectively recognize the profound truths and clarity that can emerge from the psychedelic realm.



Your sculptures have various natural elements, ranging from reindeer, a wonderful reference to the Amanita Muscaria, to bears and pine trees, are you a person who enjoys nature?

Yes, very much. All of my work is a conversation about our relationship with nature.


What is the process of creating your artwork?

It begins with finding inspiration. Inspiration for me is usually sparked by an idea, a sketch, an object, a walk in nature, mushroom hunting, or a psychedelic experience. And then a stage of sketching ideas out follows inspiration and depending on the complexity of the piece, I may need to do some engineering and planning before I begin building. My work usually happens in threes stages, creating a substructure to work on, adding and sculpting the clay, and finally primer and paint stage. A timeline for finishing a piece also depends on how complex it is. Gaia is my most complex work and took me three months to design and build.



What is the most difficult part of what you do?

It’s been managing the business end of my art and juggling all the things at once. Every artist just wants to be in studio all the time, but we have to set aside time in the week to manage correspondences, be present on social media, pay bills, order supplies, fill orders, contact galleries, etc.


Which piece you’ve made is your favorite thus far?

Hard to say, but Gaia is a favorite of mine.



Where can people buy your sculptures?

I show work mainly with Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. I’m currently working on a new body of work for a solo exhibition with Modern Eden opening May of 2024.


Michael is a wonderful contributor to the art world and  mycology by sharing knowledge and his experiences, which made me wonder who else we will unveil in the realm of fungi art.

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