At the intersection of Armitage and Kedzie Avenues, just behind The Moonlighter and across from Giant, is a colorful mushroom garden. It spreads along the wall next to Idealty/Blnk Haus and catches the eyes of any passersby wanting to take in the scenery.
What started out as a long, white blank wall is now partly home to a mushroom mural by local artist Mark Banks, who spent about a month working on the piece and finished at the beginning of October. The wall, which is separated into two parts to create two different canvases, belongs to Idealty (3206 W Armitage Ave.) owner Matt Andelman, who wanted to liven up the white space. The second half of the wall is currently being painted by Rachel Lechocki, founder of Blnk Haus, and local artist Stephanie De Graux. When it’s completed, Blnk Haus will host an event to celebrate the joint mural project.
While Banks was in the neighborhood painting, LoganSquarist sat down with the artist—who is also an amateur mycologist and mushroom forager—to learn more about the message behind the mural, why it’s close to his heart and what he hopes it will bring to the community.
LoganSqaurist: Why did you decide to paint mushrooms?
Mark Banks: A lot of my personal work that I’ve been doing recently has been nature-oriented, a lot of wilderness painting, like painting on canvas, outdoor scenery, wildlife like bees and insects and things. I was already in that frame of mind. So I just suggested [to Andelman], ‘Why don’t we do like something kind of nature-y,’ and he said, ‘Perfect.’ Everything was kind of magically just there; there were no roadblocks.
I’m an amateur mycologist. I have a biochemistry background and an academic background in the sciences, although I’m not professionally involved in the sciences anymore—I’m an artist full-time now. But I love science, I love biology. Mushrooms always attracted me as this sort of bizarre form of life, almost like alien creatures or something. They don’t feel or look like they’re from this earth sometimes. So I always had this arm’s length fascination [with mushrooms[. A couple years ago, I on a whim went out foraging for morels. I did a lot of research first and I kind of had a curiosity about it. It was just the right conjunction of time and place and for me I just had this, like, epiphany, you know, or almost a spiritual experience. it was just one of the most satisfying things I had done in a long time. I found some morels and it was just this really exhilarating experience. From there, I just tumbled right into it. I started learning about other mushrooms and getting more into the power of the ecology and the culture of it. There’s a lot of directions you can go with it. There’s a long history of forging and various cultural and anthropological contexts.
What is happening to mushrooms and mycology today and their importance in our culture?
If you go back to some of the old literature, you’ll find mushrooms appear either as an exotic novelty or as a pest, like an agricultural nuisance. And so a lot of the early literature, a lot of the early science in mycology, was largely like commercial industrial science that was really about controlling antifungal research. Now, many mycologists agree that we’re currently living in the scientific renaissance. It’s now being understood as what they’re calling the neglected mega-science, mega-science meaning it’s this linchpin phenomenon and wild ecosystems, that [plays a] critically important role, without which life simply cannot exist or continue to exist. That was sort of not understood for so long and kind of just looked past the central element of ecology.
Now, it’s becoming understood better and a lot of researchers [are] paying a lot more attention to [mushrooms]. You got the psychedelic boom, medicinal boom, traditional boom, ecological boom, scientific understanding and rethinking. But now but you’ve also got technological stuff going on. For instance, bioremediation of damaged soils and damaged areas. Mushrooms soak all that stuff up by the soil, but also things like sustainable technologies like replacing styrofoam. There are companies growing mycelia into shapes and using them as packages and materials [in the] the shipping industry, hundred percent biodegradable. Like I said, it’s a renaissance of technology, science and understanding use and also a cultural, psychological, spiritual reconnection with these long-lost organisms, which in a lot of ways, in the West anyway, you could almost say was criminalized, like witch hunts.
Photos: Mark Banks
You lived in Logan Square some years ago but had you ever painted in the area?
No. I’m actually coming back to muralism after a very, very long hiatus. I grew up on the South Side; there’s graffiti culture, we’d go out spray painting. I did some commercial murals when I was young but I’ve mostly focused most of my adult career on studio art and canvas art. I recently made the decision that I’m not as interested in producing for private spaces as I am for public spaces. I’m less interested in private taste and private satisfaction and more interested in public discourses. So [I’m] moving into the realism space.
What’s been the community reaction to your mural?
It’s been universally positive. I haven’t had anyone say I don’t like it or anything like that. People love it. A lot of people [told me] me stories about their mushroom days [and] how they are moved by it.
Featured photo: Mark Banks