histology of the gut, horror vacui at its finest

Rafting the Colorado River a couple of years back, I remember looking at the surrounding walls of the magnificent Grand Canyon. Moving deeper into it, all the while wondering to which organ in the body could I compare the environment. You know … if one day I was to draw on the experience.

Interestingly, more than half the people on the trip were medical professionals. Daily conversation allowed for a variety of responses… lymphatic system, kidneys, adrenals…etc.

I was thinking intestine, more specifically large intestine. If I was there today it could be the entire digestive system.


The last few weeks, I’ve put the portrait of Veronica aside to work a painting for an invitational exhibition. The small study helps me to work out an area of the larger portrait drawing where I struggle.

Collaging a map (of the Grand Canyon) onto canvas, I think about the topography of the GI tract. And looking at histology of the gut, I think horror vacui at its finest!

These multi-colored and multi-finger like ↑ forms are my version of enterocytes.
What: Enterocyte (a cell)
How and Where:  Line up and form intestinal epithelium, (inner surface of the intestine).
Think barrier, absorbing beneficial stuff (like sodium, calcium, magnesium, zinc…B12…water…etc…so much more than this but I want record of a few things).
And they restrict entry of harmful stuff (like microbes/pathogens and toxins).
They have an endocrine role (secrete hormones).

Can you tell my interpretation ↑ of this structure of tissues, in the abdominal cavity, hints at gut inflammation? Note the abdominal fat (visceral fat at top and bottom edge) also forms a barrier (surrounds and seals).
What: Adipose tissue (Visceral fat/VAT)
Where: Within abdominal cavity
Why: Fat protects organs by trapping and killing escaping bacteria.
Endocrine organ secretes protein hormones.

Casein, egg tempera, collage on canvas, 19.5 x 26.5″ (WIP)

The composition includes enterocytes, adipocytes, t-cells, macrophages bacteria, viruses…and other stuff…

Painting with casein and egg tempera, I can’t help but think about the food we eat. Casein and egg yolk are binders (adhesives), mixed with pigment, they are my medium. Milk and egg, do they stick…to the gut too?

#wip #horro vacui


Earlier in the month, working the portrait of Veronica with its focus on the microbiome and obesity, I wanted to set the lining of the intestines into the composition ↓. I have to be honest; I kept losing my sense of the space. I needed a map of some sort. I also needed to understand some things → Fat fights back.

So physical…this stuff… and wonderful. It seems to me… the body…might be trying to protect itself (you and me). #sosubtle


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gut. brain.

What do you visualize when you read the phrase Gut-Brain Axis? Or Brain-Gut Connection?

I picture very active brains communicating with very active intestines. Or is it the other way around? Both. It’s a two-way, busy connect especially when you consider the wandering nerve, aka, the vagus nerve. Think: 2-way, information highway. The vagus nerves are paired cranial nerves (CN X) and happen to be my favorite of all the nerves.  Because it is the longest nerve in the body it moves alongside heart and lungs and goes through all the organs of the digestive tract, connecting brain to gut.

I enjoy the challenge of capturing Veronica’s likeness while I work her profile.  I organize and sketch in the brain. The small area of my drawing is detailed into a collaged map of El Paso,TX,  where my cousin lives.

I have fun with the photo ↑ and strategically place color pencils to direct attention to the brainstem, the area of the brain I am working to understand.  I imagine the space to be like a facility loaded with chemicals and chemical messengers / hormones and neurotransmitters. Think: Food intake. Signals and controls. Many and complex. (FYI – purple pencil points to vagus nerve start.)

Some of the hormones involved include adipoectin (a protein hormone that modulates glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation), and leptin (made by fat cells and decreases appetite).

Veronica, during our initial conversation, noted ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. If I understand correctly, it is primarily released in the stomach and signals hunger to the brain. It also plays a role in determining how quickly hunger returns after a meal. And it promotes fat storage. After my surgery, she says, no more ghrelin. No more! What does this mean?  Forever? I ask.  I don’t know, she answers. And now you eat because??
I must live!
Ah…survival!

Side note: The hormones that play a role in obesity, do they also play a role in anorexia?

I haven’t brought the microbiome in yet. But I will. Now when I hear gut-brain, I also think of microbes.  FYI…they can influence hunger and satiety.

Anyway…I’m still laying ground work…which is both complicated to figure out and complicated to draw. Both my brain and my hands are keeping busy.

One more thing…
In early posts I highlight the brown adipose tissue (BAT) and the white adipose tissue (WAT). Now I study and set in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) located under the skin and visceral adipose tissue (VAT).

In the image above, ↑ I enhance (darker area) the greater omentum (cool name! for an organ) , an example of VAT. It looks like lace, doesn’t it?  This apron of fatty tissue, connective tissue and lymphatics,  comes down from the stomach and stretches over the intestines. The greater omentum, aka, Policeman of the abdomen, might just be the first line of defense against toxins or infections (microbes).

BTW…yes, there is also a lesser omentum…

Meanwhile… drawing circles/making connections.


Keeping a note:
Amylin is a hormone, co-stored and co-secreted with insulin in response to nutrients. It promotes satiety by mediating brain function, including appetite inhibition.

Amylin also plays a role in neural regeneration. It helps regulate glucose metabolism and modulates inflammation. I pull it aside and note it here because of a possible link to Alzheimer’s Disease (Type II Diabetes).

organ of vision

My friend Wright gave me some books early this week. One of them is titled Medical Meanings, A glossary of Word Origins. I look up ‘eye’ and this post is born.

Eye comes through the Old English ēage from the Teutonic auge, all of which refer to the organ of vision. Incidentally, the Old Norse vindauga, “wind-eye” became our “window.”

The paragraph finishes with:
In years past, the upper canine tooth was called the “eyetooth” in the mistaken belief that it was connected to a branch of the same nerve that supplies the eyes.


Carolyn brings over a couple of different sets of medical images. One includes profile shots of her head. The cover reads Full TMJ Right Closed & Left View. I pop it into my laptop, pull up the images and recognize Carolyn’s facial bone structure.

I already know a direct image will be the focus, right then I am certain a profile drawing will also be incorporated into the composition.

Life-size studies are a lot about research and getting general anatomy organized. When it comes to details like the facial features, I very much enjoy the act of drawing ( mostly graphite, some color pencil and an eraser kind of drawing). I like capturing likeness. The challenge eventually is to bring anatomical detail in and not lose resemblance.

Obviously I focus on the eyes (eyeballs) with Carolyn.

Initially I outline her profile into the upper right-hand corner of the picture plane and leave it there for some time.

Taking a second look at her x-rays yesterday, I change my mind and decide I prefer it to the left (her right).

Before I realize it, I am incorporating the brain….not in the plan but it makes sense why I do it and it may stay.


PS…
At the end of the day – the drawing tool appears in hand. 

#Eye #Hand #Brain
#Artist #OrganOfVision #WIP

laying out the body human

I carefully outline Carolyn’s form. The first internal organ to come on to the picture plane is the liver. The organ’s communication feels strongest when I set up to paint.

About the liver…
Consider it has over 500 functions! You could not survive without it. The busy organ aids in digestion and metabolism. It filters your blood (1.5 quarts every minute). It breaks down fat (by producing bile) to release it as energy. It also breaks down meds, drugs, alcohol, caffeine…etc. It takes the heat for you every single day! And it stores vitamins, iron and glucose (sorting and hoarding) for a rainy day.

In Chinese medicine the liver is yin (gallbladder is yang). It is like the general of an army. It opens into the eyes, directs the tendons, reflects in the nails, governs anger and houses the ethereal soul. Do you crave sour food? Your liver might be telling you it needs an extra boost.

The Nahuatl understand it to hold one of three vital forces. Ihiyotl governs ones passion, sentiment and vigor. The Ancient Egyptians also believe it seats the emotions. Necessary in the after-life, they preserve it upon death, for safe travel.

I set the notable liver and then I place the heart. Another time I’ll tell you about the Tonalli, another of the vital forces to the Nahuatl.

liver, heart, stomach

I draw the stomach followed by the large intestine, small intestine and colon…

large and small intestines

I detail left breast tissue and right, move to clavicles, arm and hand bones, pelvis, legs and feet bones.

mammary glands

Thyroid (upper blue area in neck) and thymus (lower blue area above heart)

I place the thyroid. The butterfly shaped gland always speaks to me in turquoise blue. At this point I make the heart bigger, overlay it with the thymus gland (also in turquoise) and as is usual when drawing the thymus, I tap mine in acknowledgment.

Spleen

Finally, I introduce the blood vessels and the beautiful lymphatic system into the composition. The latter directs me to outline and color in the spleen. While the spleen associates with the liver – as I paint, it is the most quiet of the organs.

I like the container-like quality about the form. Let’s see if I can keep it.

Detail – Liver

#WorkInProgress #YourOneSacredLiver


Side note:
Tucson Museum of Art’s Chief Curator, Julie Sasse, is bringing the TMA’s Latin American Art Patrons to the Phoenix Art Museum’s Teotihuacan exhibition next week. While they’re in town I’ll be hosting a studio visit for them.

A good way to begin the new year…

portrait of carolyn – body female

It’s late July when after taking care of the various recommended health screenings, my friend Carolyn has a biopsy. She calls to tell me she’s diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer.

Stage zero! Stage zero? What does this mean? In the course of our conversation I feel myself in repeat mode…Stage zero! Stage zero? 

Diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), she explains the cancer cells are contained. They’ve not spread outside of the ducts or lobules into surrounding breast tissue.

Carolyn, a visual artist, problem solves. Research, discipline and commitment are all part of the creative process in the studio. She now directs these well-honed skills towards creating balance in her health and wellness. She chooses to clean up her system. For Carolyn, this means going vegan.

She surrounds herself with an integrative medical team including her regular primary care physician who is a D.O. (internal medicine), a medical oncologist, a cancer surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, a naturopathic physician, a physical therapist, a lymphedema specialist and she brings in a licensed acupuncturist.

August 23 she undergoes a 5 1/2 hour surgery for stage zero breast cancer followed by  a traditional course of radiation which she completes November 6th. Carolyn opts out of the 5 year hormone (suppressing) therapy that often follows radiation. 

I photograph and outline her body the following Saturday afternoon. I return to my studio and Carolyn heads to the Grand Avenue Street Festival.

Carolyn is open about her medical history and consequently I know a fair amount…of interesting things. Her medical records are impressive. They are carefully organized with an object-like quality almost like the cut-outs she collects to work her drawings. Still, I never expected to draw her.

Back in the studio, it’s been a while since I work out a full-scale human. In the interim I’ve learned much more about body organs and systems. And I crack the door and peek into microorganisms and the human microbiome. I am curious to see how the latter will enter the picture plane.

As I work, I recall a few years back, a conversation with Carolyn about the ileum (highlighted below ↓ in orange). It’s a space in the small intestine where the body stores Vitamin B12. I’m fascinated that such an area exists. #thebodyamazing

Carolyn takes B12 regularly these days.

In the small intestines you’ll find the ileum. To the left is the cecum (the start of the large intestine) and below it is the appendix. Lower right corner is the edge of the rectum.

I lay out the structure as I consider the narrative of this new work. It is a very good time to talk about women’s health and wellness.

Work in Progress Portrait of Carolyn (on Arches Hot Press) 7×4′

A body human: portrait of the private and the public, the social and the biological.


Carolyn is an artist who lives in Phoenix, AZ. I know she’ll appreciate me telling you she grew up in Washington, outside of Seattle. She is married to a good guy. Brian surprised (and impressed) me when he handed me an article about the benefits of cilantro.
Oh…and cats! they live with lots of cats (maybe 4).

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