12 weeks – neuron to mandorla

Artists-in-Residence:
We re-organize work-spaces Thursday, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, preparing for the closing celebration of our summer artist residency Friday evening.

Twelve weeks – they fly!

Crossing paths with the many people at TCA including employees, docents and guests (many guests from around the world!) is one of this residency’s perks. I especially enjoy getting to know and work alongside artists Kyllan Maney and Bobby Zokaites.

Kyllan’s Radial Patterns are full of spiraling detail. I’m impressed by the relaxed, yet quick pace at which she moves. The generous Kyllan (she shares a lot with me) has a most notable ability to bring together community.

Bobby’s nature is full of curious and intelligent play. His color scheme for his many compositions is influenced by Dr. Suess. We spend many afternoons talking and cover everything from the elements of design to the business of art. I watch as he constructs his robotic designs. And for the record, I envy his ability to construct a cool sentence.

The three of us connect on a few occasions talking politics – history and world events. And art.

My work: 12 weeks from the Neuron to Mandorla

Understanding the healthy brain seems necessary to understand the brain with dementia. I first study the neuron and in this I discover a variety of supporting glia.  Looking at all the various parts of the brain, I also emphasize and draw the hippocampus and I isolate and draw the motor and sensory cortex.

The Homunculus – Photographed by Tricky Burns

In June I come across an article linking mitochondrial dysfunction to Alzheimer’s Disease.   I feel sad to know the form I tend to favor in a cell is one of the first to redirect in AD. The mitochondria ↓ are the powerhouses of a cell and produce about 90% of the chemical energy needed for the cell’s survival.

Mitochondria

Last week I read about the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)  in Alzheimer’s disease. Consider the ER ↓ like a road system moving into and throughout a city allowing for transportation of goods. Within the cell these passageways allow proteins (“the goods”) to move from the ribosomes (red ↓ dots below).

Based on work I complete a few years back, I know about unfolded or misfolded proteins. Now I make their connection to the amyloid plaques in AD.

Endoplasmic Reticulum with Ribosome

My first study in this residency introduces neurons and microglia. My final study in the residency has me return to the neuron. This time it is a diseased and dying neuron surrounded by amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

dying neuron drawing in progress (front of drawing)

completed dying neuron (Back of drawing)

The completed drawing of a dying neuron appears like a sacred mandorla holding space where opposing worlds and forces meet. A subtle (not so subtle) location where heaven and earth, the divine and the human interact.

The residency is over – the work continues.


A special thanks to gallery director Michelle Dock and all the crew (Tricky, Brady and Anthony) at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Thanks to all the docents who shared personal stories with me. You do a fine job of sharing the work with the public.

Thanks again to Kyllan and Bobby, my fellow resident artists. I hope you both know how much your hearty laughter served me this summer.


The Artist-in-Residence is over but draw: the art of curiosity and innovation continues to Sept 1st at TCA.

Mom, who had not seen dad’s study, saw it yesterday.

present and re-present

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of neurodegenerative dementia associated with aging, affects over 5 million adults in the United States and is predicted to increase to 16 million affected by 2050. – Alzheimer’s Association 2017 


Looking at the PET scans  – I recognize his profile. This is my father.

Talking to my sister Mercedes, she reminds me how for years when one of us called out Dad! he’d yell  back, YO SOY EL SEÑOR MARTINEZ! 
I smile. I don’t ask if he still does this.

It’s natural when I make art to think about it as installation. I want some sense of a bigger picture. With this particular work, I imagine a small series of studies and words. Maybe the words are text (as marks) across a wall.

I ask mom, my 4 sisters and brother to jot down thoughts/words about dad, past or present, as I make a small scratchboard series of his PET scans.

Mercedes: His funny sayings – CON UN DIABLO!!

Dad never really cusses in front of us. My guess is this saying is his version of Damn it!

Elisa: He likes to play with words, he always has. Every time we pass a one-way sign or stop at a four-way stop sign he says…”un guey”. “Cuatro gueyes”.

Dad’s humor includes playing with words and the English and Spanish language. 

Elisa: He used to say grocerias for groceries. Now he says, narizona when we get to Arizona Street.

Elisa also sends recordings she’s made of some of their conversation. In one recording she asks dad about his sister Carmen, who died last month at the age of 99.

Elisa: How many years between you and Carmen?
Dad (who is 86): I don’t know, followed by a long pause, she was old enough to scold me.

Mercedes: He liked Gabriel-Garcia Marquez’s, Cien Años de Soledad.  He took us to the Plaza Theater to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first came out and Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein at Plaza…Jaws and Star Wars at Cielo Vista. 

I laugh because within minutes of Young Frankenstein starting, I saw in his face he’d  regretted it. Not a kid’s movie dad!

Mercedes: …summers and swimming, Washington Park and Armijo….with all the neighborhood kids.

Dad, for many years was a summer life-guard for the city summer recreation program. He took us to work with him every day, Monday to Friday (lucky mom). And along with us, he often did have many of the neighborhood kids piled into the station wagon.
He swears he taught me to swim. Maybe I didn’t pay attention. His mouth dropped when years later, as an adult, I told him about the afternoon I almost drowned at my best friends house.

Mercedes: He liked Yoga!

This comment brings back my 10-year old self, skipping over him as he holds Cobra Pose.

Mercedes: …candy apple red Alfa Romeo. Guayaberas. He taught me to make Gin and Tonics. He likes to eat :).

Gin and Tonics?!

Analissa’s memory takes her back to high school:  I went to the library to pick a book, I chose One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia-Marquez. He read it with me. He went on to read everything by him, took a class on the author and later magical realism. I thought that was cool – he made himself an expert just like that. I once went to play cello for a class he was taking. I forget the class, but I played the same program as Pablo Casals did at the Kennedy White House. I sensed he was proud.

Analissa (younger than the rest of us, never knew dad the lifeguard, but does know dad the swimmer):  I would go swimming with him, since I was a little girl. He taught me to swim. I have specific memories: his cadence and body movement and endurance – his swim bag and goggles, flip-flops and little shampoo bottles. The last time we went swimming I sensed it would be our last time at the pool together. So I stopped and just watched him swim the whole time.

…We once looked up the town he was in, in Germany, on Google Earth. It was exciting for both of us. He had 3 memories: The train station that would take him into town, the ‘biergarten’ where they would drink, and the cathedral where they’d go to church after drinking all night on Saturday, then back to the train station. We found all three of those things, they were still there.
Dad is funny. 

Chacho, my brother, notes John Nichols and the Milagro Beanfield War – When I read it, at Cathedral, he told me it was one of his favorite books.  He would read it at least once a year. He likes Hemingway. When I was reading For Whom the Bell Tolls he would tell me about it. He had the movie on VHS.
His favorite drink is Negra Modelo.

‘El Sapo High’…He says this every time we pass El Paso High School. 

Clearly Dad read a lot and – he suggested I read Cortázar’s Rayuela and also the English translation titled Hopscotch. The book had instructions in it on how to read it. Apparently it bounces from the past to the present. Instructions?! Too complicated dad!
It’s still on my list.

One of my sisters never responded and mom wasn’t sure what to say. She’s in the thick of it with taking care of dad.

As Artist-in-Residence, I focus on dementia and Alzheimer’s this summer.

I sit at my drawing table at the Tempe Center for the Arts, talking to people who come in and share their personal stories about how dementia touches their lives. I’ve connected with professionals on the issue. And last week a chemical engineer visiting the gallery talked to me about President Reagan, who died of Alzheimer’s. He was known to drink a coke a day. This chemical engineer, who spoke 5 languages, told me about a project he took in Japan shortly after graduating and consequently he never drinks out of aluminum cans if he can help it – only bottles for him.

…I know I want these small scratchboards bigger. I admit, this summer it sometimes feels odd to be working with new materials, mixing colors, and laying out ideas.

Raising awareness…my own and yours.


Tempe, AZ →  Dementia Friendly City
More → The Alzheimers Association
Special TIME Edition June 2018 → The Science of Alzheimers

cortical homunculus

This last week artist friend Tim, who has an undergrad degree in Neurobiology, sends me an image of a figure. Cortical homunculus, thought you mike like it, he writes.  He explains…a map of the nerve receptors in the brain as related to scale on the body. I know the 2D version of this 3D form and immediately  make the connection.

Cortical homunculus! Why didn’t I ever look closer and why didn’t I note the cool name (words always pull me)?  Homunculus is Latin for little man, add cortical and you have a cortex man (a man in the brain!). The depiction basically represent a map of the body, more specific, nerve fibers from the spinal cord, that end at various points in the parietal lobe formulating a map of the body. I see mostly male (it is a little man, after all) though I do find female representations.

Initiated by Dr. Wilder Penfield who envisioned an imaginary world in which a homunculi (a very small humanoid form) lived. He and his colleagues set up experiments to produce a topographical brain map and a corresponding homunculi.

I enjoy working out the composition and now that I understand, I plan to draw more of them. No doubt, my versions will include the female in the brain!

I label as best I can considering the space I set up before I know all that I will include. One side of the homunculus maps the sensory nerves, while the other side maps motor nerves. ↓

Sensory Cortex (sensory body map)

Motor Cortex (motor body map)

Scheduled to facilitate an adult workshop in mid July, for my artist-in-residency, I now consider the color, line and text of the Cortical homunculus.

Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month

I spend the last few days isolating and drawing the regions of the brain.  The earlier studies I work last winter, the beautiful bones of the cranium, lay out for me basic information connecting to the brain. Knowing I will eventually focus on the organ, I certainly don’t know I’ll be focusing on dementia and Alzheimer’s this summer. I also don’t know, as I begin this study, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

I don’t have an outline for how to move through all this. I learn, I draw – I draw, I learn. I begin with basic groundwork.  I work out neurons and glia and now I look at the cerebrum and limbic system. I am looking for the hippocampus as it relates to Alzheimer’s.

I pause here to tell you the brain is beautiful and so full of complexity (form and pattern). I am lost in the labyrinth now.

I start by laying out regions of the cerebrum, using a slightly different color of blue for each area.

The Frontal Lobe in bright blue.

Occipital Lobe (in the back of the cerebrum)

Do you see the hippocampus (the center c-like ↑ structure) buried deep in the center of the image? It’s not highlighted yet.

Parietal Lobe – dark blue upper back

Note the white areas atop ↑ the brain identifying the motor and sensory strips. I leave them color free only to know where they are as I work – eventually I outline them in blue.

Temporal Lobe – center lower right area

As I draw I try to understand something about each area – so much to learn.

In general, the hippocampus processes declarative memories and spatial relationships. This is one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Patients begin to lose short-term memory and may also find it a challenge to follow directions.

Called the hippocampus, the organ is said to resemble a seahorse (from the Greek hippos is horse and campus is sea monster).  Living in the desert my whole life, I decide it resembles a Devil’s Claw seed pod.


A side note:
This morning I talk to Ryan, a roofer who is doing some work for us. He tells me about the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona.  Apparently sometime back he sustained a brain injury from a biking accident. He informs me the average helmet lasts about 4 to 5 years and most people don’t think to replace their own. He explains with time the lining hardens.

The conversation is interesting because as I research dementia, I also learn the same defective Tau protein found in Alzheimer’s disease is identifiable in the neurons of athletes who have in earlier years sustained serious concussions.

This week I hear the brain being described as a gelatinous organ protected by a rigid bony skull. It does needs protection from impact and jarring.

I mention I didn’t know June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. I know it  and now you know it too.

neurons and glia (and my father’s brain)

Are you in the neuron? Or is the neuron in you?


Steeped in the study of the human brain, I am in preparation for an artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Consequently I know my brain changes as I learn, while I draw, and even now as I write. I mean it is really changing.

And I guess I can say now my father’s brain is changing too. Dad’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For awhile I understand (more or less) he has dementia – I now know (more or less) he has Alzheimer’s. And because my father has Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) I decide to focus this summer’s residency on both the healthy brain and the  brain with dementia.

Where to begin….
The residency calls for me to work at the Tempe Center for the Arts (I am 1 of 3 artists that will be in residence this summer).  I can’t help but consider the public. Actually I am always aware of the public, but more in the form of viewer (of the completed work) and not necessarily as part of the process. I will engage with visitors in a thoughtful manner.

While I’ve drawn many studies of the brain in the last few years, now I feel the need for a brain basics course (101). I consider the primary building blocks of the human brain – neurons and glia (neuralgia).  I spend days looking at imagery including the drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal (The Beautiful Brain).

I draw and paint a neuron↓.

Neuron Study

I draw glia ↓.  I didn’t know there’s a variety of glial cells!

These particular cells are key in maintaining homeostasis. I think of them as a sort of maintenance crew (though they’re more than that). While I’ve found different ratios, overall it seems glia outnumber neurons 10 to 1 (I’ve also read 6 to 1, 3.75 to 1).

Oligodentrocytes

Astrocyte

 

Microglial cell

I enjoy detailing the small preliminary study ↓ (not finished yet).
Note: At this point I better understand where abnormal plaques and tangles, as seen in Alzheimer’s, form.

This week my mother sends my father’s brain scans to me. The day the disc arrives, I pop it into my computer. I recognize my dad’s head and  profile. I manage to bring in (and change) the color of the basic black and white scans. I see them light up and they’re beautiful. There are 4 images, 1 rotates while 3 are static. I figure out how to move through layers of the brain. What am I looking at?  I sober up.

I recognize general areas of the brain though I don’t know how to read the particulars of the images. I hope to find someone who can help me make sense of things.


We’ll be installing in a couple of weeks…
Tempe Center for the Arts

The Gallery at TCA presents
draw: the art of curiosity and innovation
May 25-Sept 1
This interactive exhibition celebrates a wide variety of creative media, styles and techniques that incorporate drawing. The “draw” experience includes fine art displays by local artists, exploration stations for doodling and art making, live artist demonstrations and multiple workshop opportunities for all ages.

Meet Artists-in-Residence through Aug. 3
Kyllan Maney, Monica Aissa Martinez and Bobby Zokaites
 → for more info


Last month I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Dr. Jay Braun, ASU Emeritus Professor of Psychology. We talked about the healthy brain and the Alzheimer’s brain. Exercise, he says, is the most important thing one can do to maintain a healthy brain.

I’m off for a run now…


an interview / the u of a college of medicine

Mohammad Khan March 13,2018
An Interview with Monica Martinez 

This interview is re-created from the conversation I had with Monica Martinez, the artist responsible for the Nothing in Stasis exhibit that is currently in the lobby of the HSEB. 

How did you become interested in making art?

I’ve been making things since I was in grade school probably. Teachers noted my ability, and kept my interest going.

I attended college at the University of Texas in El Paso and began a more serious study of art, specifically metalsmithing and ceramics. I moved to New Mexico State University to get my graduate degree in fine art, particularly drawing and printmaking.

What made you decide to change media?

I went to NMSU to study with a printmaking professor whose work I admired → Continue reading


The Differential is the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix student publication. Mohammad Khan a first year medical student and an editor for the student-run newspaper contacted me in February.


no woman is an island

August 2016
Joe: I took a photo of your work last year at the Sky Harbor exhibit. May I ask your permission to use the artwork for my class on evolution and medicine at the University of New Mexico and on the blog that I use for the class: EvolutionMedicine.com?

Me: Thank you for asking. I received my MFA at NMSU…I have great affinity for New Mexico.

Portrait of Sara, Head in Profile, Arms Akimbo (detail)

February 2018
Joe: I’m in Tempe today through Saturday. I hope to visit the UofA Med school gallery while I am here. Are you available tomorrow around noon? Or Saturday?

Saturday afternoon, almost 1-1/2 years after the initial email – I meet Joe (and his mom!) at the Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix.

Joe is a practicing emergency physician and teaches at University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine. He is also program chair for the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. He wants to see my work and he wants to discuss using some of my compositions on the organization’s website. He invites me to attend their annual meeting this August in (beautiful) Park City, Utah. I appreciate the opportunity (curiosity stirred) but I cannot commit to the latter. Spending the last month working on applications for exhibition opportunities including a summer artist residency, I feel too many unknowns to set the plan in motion. He understands.

The three of us walk the exhibit and eventually come to Portrait of Sara ↑. At the time I work on the study, I explain as I point to the upper right corner of the composition, I learn about the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve, in particular, catches my attention because it is also known as the wandering nerve.

Joe’s face registers recognition and I glimpse excitement. I am in the habit of explaining the details of my work to people but perhaps in a medical education environment, I don’t need to explain so much. It is at this point that Joe brings up the microbiome. I’ve heard of the brain-gut connect, I say. He nods and clarifies gut-brain axis. I think about what I understand… It relates to the vagus nerve, yes? By the time the afternoon is over, I know the human microbiome is of great interest to him.

We talk about a few things including evolution medicine. But what stands out is when Joe connects body and environment.  I don’t write them down so I can’t quote his words, basically he brings up the construction happening across the valley.  What is occurring here, apartment building on top of apartment building – not a good thing for our microbiome. Being in nature and with animals, including living with our pets (the natural world) – supports the human microbiome.

We are a system of connecting parts.

Notes on the Complexity of the Brain, Mixed media and collage on paper, 8×8″

We sit at a table across from two of my small mixed-media portraits (studies of the brain). Joe says… I want that one. You do?!  He appreciates the techie quality. I nod…those are motherboard elements.


To know more about what Joe Alcock teaches visit→ EvolutionMedicine.com.
And → @JoeAlcockMD #tweets #microbiome and #evolution. And #phage.
When they refer to it (phage) on Science Friday (like they did this last week) – I enjoy knowing what it means! Information takes hold in small ways. 

Thank you so much Joe.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

On a side note:
Did you know today is Day 3 of Brain Awareness Week. It is!
Notified that I did receive the artist residency, this summer I will spend 12 weeks at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I plan to study and draw the human brain.