The Life Botanic

Chris Garofalo’s transition from graphic designer to ceramist was evolutionary. “At first I did more painting on pieces than actual textures,” the Chicago-based artist says. “Eventually I wanted them to look like they grew by themselves, that my hand wasn’t involved. So I started doing less painting and more glazes that looked like skin and fur—natural things.” Garofalo’s work blurs the boundaries of the natural world, seeming simultaneously marine and terrestrial. “When you take away the environment and put things from extremely different places side by side without scale and context, they actually look a lot alike.”

Although Garofalo studies images from illustrated science books, field guides, and dictionaries and collects real-world specimens like fossils, shells, and seedpods, she never copies existing species. Rather her work is meant to make us look more closely and consider how life forms have developed. That’s why the Desert House at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory—where 163 of Garofalo’s pieces are installed through November 6 in the Reciprocally Prickly exhibition—is a perfect situation for her sculptures. “They are sort of floating among the plants,” she says. “In theory you might have trouble deciding which is a plant and which is a sculpture. The idea is to get people to look back and forth between the two and figure out what makes one alive and one not.”

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