Divine Inquiry by Michelle Anderst

July 29, 2013

Michelle Anderst is a Seattle-based fine artist whose paintings of biological structures serve as both works of art as well as aesthetic statements on ecological consciousness in the modern world. Through her use of vibrant colors and organic subject matter, such as bone, stem, and vein, Anderst creates unique microcosms of the greater natural world, illustrating the interdependence of all living things with one another, no matter how seemingly small or distantly related. 

Assistant Illustration Editor Laura Hines had the opportunity to speak further with the artist on her newest body of work, her love of fungi, and her thoughts on environmental sustainability.

LAURA HINES: Tell me a bit about your newest series of work and your thoughts behind its subject matter.

MICHELLE ANDERST: Through my imagery of skulls, fungi and plants I have been able to explore the concept of death and rebirth which has been the major theme of my reality in the last two years after experiences drastic life changes. I have an intense fascination for the alien characteristics of fungi and the manner in which it breaks down organic matter allowing it to re enter the cycle of growth and death.

The direction of my most recent work has been extended to include the geometric shapes and patterns which can be observed throughout nature. The objects I have directed my affection toward are seeds and pollen on a microscopic level. Many of their forms contain geometric patterns which blow my mind. Several seed structures, such as a three dimensional hexagon, have been used in modern building materials because of their efficiency in weight and surface area. I enjoy bringing attention to the way a patterned structure is widely repetitious in nature as well as inadvertently copied by man.

LAURA HINES: I think you've really summed up the conceptual substance of your work in a very beautiful and evocative way. From what you described, with themes of death, rebirth, and structural repetitions, the ethos of environmental sustainability springs to mind. 

MICHELLE ANDERST: When drawing a significant amount of inspiration from the ecosystem, one cannot escape the issue of sustainability. This subject in particular plays a major factor in my intrigue for the role fungi plays in nature. I am constantly gleaning information about micro climates and the specialized species they contain which are inextricably interconnected. All sources of energy along with every drop of water is utilized to its full potential through infinite variations of species who use a variety a different shapes to accomplish this task. 

After realizing the extent of these connections I had a thought. Since we as humans are creating and disposing of so much plastic, the possibility exists for some kind of microbe to evolve and make use of it. There cannot be such an available food resource without some species taking advantage of it. You can imagine my excitement when a friend informed me a few months later that a team of students from Yale had discovered a species of fungus capable of breaking down polyurethane plastic. The amount of waste we create is one example of how I find our growing separation from nature deeply disturbing. I believe we can draw inspiration from the processes and structures in nature to build and harness resources more efficiently so we may live in harmony with our surroundings. 

LAURA HINES: This concept of harmonization amongst living systems is clearly reflected in your work's meticulous compositional balance of pattern, color, and scientific subject matter. The structural interplay between animal anatomy, plants, and fungi is especially intriguing. What sort of resources do you use to create your compositions, and what is your general process?

MICHELLE ANDERST: I own a plethora of books used for painting references from lichen field guides to giant images of pollen and illustrations by Ernst Haeckel. I usually plan out a few paintings at a time and consider it a requirement to disperse my materials all over the floor, ripping pages out of books as I go. I have found that scattering inspiring images all about my studio helps me channel a concept even if I have only passively taken it into my brain. Once I have a general composition planned out I start creating backgrounds by dripping paint on my canvas, using oil in the same manner as watercolor. As I work through the painting I will switch out several different colors combinations until I find what works. I rarely plan color before I start painting. 


View more of Michelle Anderst's work at

Her next exhibition, "Garden of Your Mind," will be at the Hive Gallery in LA in September 2013.

Many thanks to Michelle for her gracious participation in this interview.