Jun 29, 2011

Even though this climbing hydrangea is starting to block some light, its silhouette from the inside of my studio is so pretty that it makes me not want to cut it back.

Jun 22, 2011

the art of science

My head has been in the world of biomedical research lately and let me tell you, it's an amazing world to be in.

This picture is from Dr. Paul Thomas' office in the Department of Immunology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  He and I have been working together for the the The Art of Science, a project where an artist makes something inspired by the work of a St. Jude scientist.  

Over three meetings we learned a lot about each other's work. I visited his lab, he patiently explained the imagery I had been given by St. Jude and then he came to my studio. 

Early on, I asked him what he liked most about his work and he said, "the process of immunity is story telling."  I believe that's the true connection between art and science.

First, here are the images form his lab.

This is Trey Oguin, who among other things does all the photography of the flu virus infecting lung cells.  He is passionate and focused on the work he does.  When I asked him what he found most interesting about immunology he said, "It's hard. It's a challenge.  There are not many answers are out there so when you do get it it’s very rewarding."  Again, I could relate.

Because of copy write issues, I can't post the images St. Jude provided me to use.  (You'll have to come to the show to see those!)  These are some of the studies I did based on those images. Written below each one is the description that was on the image from St. Jude.

 tracheal epitheal cells

3D image from a video showing the cross section of the human tracheal epithelial layer (nuclei blue) with cilliated cells (green) on the apical surface.

hTEC nuclei

 mTEC Drak5

cross section of Rous sarcoma virus infected cells  bronchial epithelial.

Human tracheal epithelial cell's cilia, which beat in waves to move mucous and pathogens out of airwaves. 

Electron microscopy of influenza particles budding off of tracheal epithelial cells.

3D image from a video of influenza particles budding off of tracheal epithelial cells.

Traditional human seasonal H1 influenza virus spreading in human lung cells
flu virus - green, lung cell nulei - blue, anti viral protien - red

I wanted to make a painting using all of these, but I knew I had to narrow it down. When Dr. Thomas came to my studio he said the one he really liked was this last one above of the virus spreading.   It actually looks the least like the St. Jude imagery, but we both liked the target at the bottom.

Part of the painting is telling the story an invasion, another layer is some of the great imagery from Dr. Thomas' board in his office and the rest is simply me just painting.  As I told Dr. Thomas when he visited my studio, "at some point I have to stop thinking about all of this and just paint, put colors and shapes next to each other and hope for the magic to happen."

Here's the final result. It's 4' x 4' and titled "Even in Arcadia, there am I"

Every time we met, Dr. Thomas would recommend a book.   All of his suggestions were fascinating reads,  but I especially loved Arcadia because it made for such an elegant backdrop to the idea of the interdependence of science and art I was thinking about throughout the whole process. The title is a line from the play.

Lastly, here's what I wrote about the experience that is on the website for the show:

As an abstract painter, I observe the world around me and break down what I see into the most basic elements of visual experience.   Unfortunately, my eyes can see only so much of the natural world.  From the smallest cellular images to the Hubble Telescope shots of the vastness of deep space, scientists pull back the curtain to the invisible yet magical world around us. When looking at this imagery, I appropriate exactly the same elements I would if I were looking at beautiful architecture: line, shape, color, form and texture.  

Both art and science give us a narrative to our existence.  It’s ironic that in this age of specialization the connection between these two disciplines has been severed, especially considering there are many parallels in why we do what we do.   In the laboratory and the studio, artists and scientists spend hours upon hours alone, asking questions, testing and retesting and searching for answers.   Curiosity, persistence, repetitiveness and allowing for accidents and missteps, are similar means to different ends. 


This is Stephanie C. Miller, publisher of Photosynthesis Magazine. She delivers on the description: "sustainable garden design, deeply ecological horticulture, environmental fine art writing, semi-wild landscape and garden photography".

Memphis is awfully lucky to have this imaginative woman poking around artist's studios and behind garden fences.  Earlier this year we had a long talk in my studio about the overlapping of ecology and art in our work.  For her summer issue I selected a few of my paintings that are directly influenced by the natural world.  Check it out.

Jun 7, 2011

looking at

Mickalene Thomas  link

Matthew Rich   link