Jacqueline Freeman has become "quite the mushroom nut" after taking walks across the Heath and Highgate Wood this past year.

They have proved to be a fertile source of inspiration for the Archway-based artist, whose first solo exhibition at a new gallery in Junction Road is titled 'Fungarium'

The Galley at The Playroom plays host to her paintings, prints and sketches, in pencil, charcoal, inks, and watercolours.

Old Souls is part of Fungarium at The Galley in Junction RoadOld Souls is part of Fungarium at The Galley in Junction Road (Image: Jacqueline Freeman)

From puffballs to inkcaps, pink oyster to chanterelles they reflect her fascination with the incredible world of the earth's estimated 2.5million fungi species which can reside in "sprawling webs of mycelium beneath our feet and microscopic spores in the air we breathe".

"They might be delicious, nutritious, mind­ expanding or can kill you if you pick the wrong one," she says.

"Without fungi our forests would not exist and we would not have bread, beer, cheese, chocolate, coffee, or wine."

Jacqueline Freeman holds her first solo show this monthJacqueline Freeman holds her first solo show this month (Image: Courtesy of Jacqueline Freeman)

Fungi share more DNA with us than they do with plants, but Freeman says, despite being recognised by the United Nations as of equal value to plants and animals in conservation terms, we know relatively little about them.

"I had to research and draw mushrooms for an art class at the Royal Drawing School and the more I looked into fungi, the more exciting and interesting it became," she says.

"There are so many areas that are fascinating. Mushrooms are going to save the world, they have the potential for decomposing chemicals and plastics to convert toxic waste, they have medicinal properties, I take functional mushroom tinctures for brain function, and edible properties - I hadn't considered they are in the kombucha I brew at home -  it's a slippery slope, once people get interested, that's it, you are in."

The graphic designer had given up her art practice after leaving university and only picked it up again during lockdown. She is now a valued member of the Highgate Watercolour Group and sells her work via her website jacquelinefreemanart.com

It was on her daily walks around Highgate, Parkland Walk and Kenwood that she started noticing the fungus. 

"Beneath the canopy of the trees I'd find myself looking down, intrigued by this subterranean network in the earth, plants and fungi both need each other to survive, they are communicating underground, swapping nutrients and energy, there's this whole trading empire known as the Wood Wide Web and an intelligence that we humans don't appreciate that caught my imagination."

For an artist they are "easy to buy, forage or grow" - she keeps some dried in a cabinet to draw in her home studio - but says 90 percent of species are unknown to science ­because most fungi live out of sight.

She praises Jane Garfield who runs The TOY Project, a charity that recycles unwanted toys with opening a new community gallery on Junction Road.

"It has been fantastic to have a low cost space for local artists to run their pop up exhibitions without having huge costs - a very exciting prospect for upcoming artists, as well as becoming a brilliantly supportive artists network."

Fungariam runs from 16-21 July from 11am to 6pm daily at The Gallery at The Playroom, 99 Junction Road, Archway, London.