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


©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

food. who’s in control?

The question: Can gut microbes influence our eating behavior?

Veronica sends a short list of the food and drink she particularly enjoys (and on occasion craves).  Meanwhile I figure out the composition.  I weigh choice and consequence.

Microbiome. Healthy food / Unhealthy food. I weigh the food that feeds good microbes and promotes health (plant-based, fiber-rich) against the food that feeds bad microbes and supports dysbiosis (microbial imbalances that drive disease).

A few things I learn along the way: Less diversity of the microbes in our gut can lead a person to obesity. A healthy microbiome can protect us from infection and disease and produces vitamins (B12 and K).

I know (cuz I draw) there is limited space in the gut. I also know microbes complete for the space. Microbes use it = Microbes use us.  Microbes compete with each other and they compete with us (their host) for space and resources.

What if each and every individual’s gut microbes have needs and wants of their own ? This sort of changes the picture, doesn’t it? And you thought self-control (or lack of) was the main thing driving your food choice and intake.

This whole thing starts to make a little more sense as I draw and paint the food on Veronica’s list, into the composition. I can’t help but think about all the apartments going up in Phoenix and all the growing city traffic. Microbes, like Phoenicians, might be trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in dense environment. #competition

Below are some of the images and notes I post into social media. And as usual…the food pulls in the people (comment threads, not included, were interesting to read).

Pepsi 🥤 has 41g of sugar (and 38mg of caffeine). A Snickers bar 🍫 has 27g of sugar and 14g of fat. Who do you think craves sugars and fats more? You or the microbes  that live in ur gut? #Conflict between #host (you and me) and #microbe (our bugs!). #obesity

I read somewhere that the grilled cheese🧀 🥪  might be the most popular sandwich in the world. 😮 Could this be true!? You tell me. They always remind me of my grandmother who used to take me to a local diner to enjoy one. She loved ❤️ a good grilled cheese 🧀 🥪 . All I’m going to say is that they change your gut flora. All dairy changes the gut flora. It has something to do w short chain fatty acids (lipids). Do your microbes 🦠 love 🧀 🥪?? I bet some of them do. #oozycheese btw…all food changes the gut flora. #bread and #butter #noprocessedcheese

I wrote about the benefits of 🥑 in my last study and they’re plenty. In this current study about obesity and microbes 🦠 – things get complicated. 🥑 are unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). It feels to me like the benefit might be unique to each individual depending on their gut microbes. 🥑 satiate and if everything is balanced they can suppress hunger and increase meal satisfaction. But if it’s true that microbes 🦠 can hijack our neuronal systems 😮 and our 🧠 brain (I 👂 they can!) well then this changes things. Do microbes 🦠 compete w us for food and energy? It’s the question here. Anyway- I ❤️ 🥑. #appetitehormones #WhoIsInCharge? Is there anyone who doesn’t love a good guacamole?!

🥩 The art of the red meat 🥩 (in this case medium rare). What if 🥩 red meant promoted the growth of bad 🦠 bacteria? And what if we benefitted from eating less of it? This is how I 👁 it (as I ✏️ it). Think about the space in your gut 🤔. It’s limited, right? And tunneled and narrow and twisty turny… Why would we put something hard to digest into our gut to take up space (for a good amount of time) when we can eat more fiber-rich and plant-based 🌱 food that promoted microbes beneficial to our gut? Things could move easily, quickly, take the turns smoothly…or not. Just something light and easy to think about. 🤔 WhatKind? HowMuch? HowOften?

Clementines. 🍊 Oranges! Fruits feed good bacteria 🦠 . 🍊 🍊🍊 in particular have some sort of soluble fiber our gut bacteria 🦠 ferments. One of the byproducts of this process is a fatty acid called #butyrate. Butyrate helps maintain the cells that line our GI tract. And that’s a good thing! You know the soluble fiber is mostly in the stuff that divides the segments of the orange…so eat them all up. Good stuff! #ShortChainFattyAcid #VitaminC #AnOrangeTreeGrowsInPhoenix 🍊🦠

The last thing I draw on the list is 🍺. Veronica likes a German wheat beer called Hefeweizen. I played w the logo Hefe and turned it into the word Jefa. #Jefa, Spanish slang indicating the female #boss.  She is! Ok, now back to the microbes…🤔 Who craves the 🍺? You? or your microbes 🦠? Which microbes? #VitamiminB #Polyphenols Your body lets you know. #OrDysbiosis

Do microbes influence your eating behavior?

#obesity #microbiome  #conflict #cooperation



©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

no woman is an island

I receive a card a few weeks ago from Margaret:
Thank you for my new milagro. I plan on sharing it with my sisters Elizabeth and Kathryn. It will travel between my home in West Virginia and their homes in New York. My sister Kathryn and I make these needle felted things we call talismans, small, discrete lovely things about the size of your milagros. It will hang with these among other things at my altar for my mother, Elena, and her spirit will continue on vibrant as ever, only from a different plane.

Continue your work, it serves the world and graces what we think of ourselves. 

This note – so thoughtful.  And reading the last sentence a few times, I can’t help but wish for every woman, every mother, sister and daughter, to hear, to know words like this too.

Margaret writes in January of 2019:
I didn’t know what to picture when I learned my mom had colon cancer. Scans don’t show anything. Doctors draw diagrams and talk in the abstract. One doctor showed me his pinky and said my mother’s colon was like the diameter of a pencil. I said ok but what does that mean? I forgot to say what does it look like? Soon the vision wasn’t pretty in my head. But your artworks helped me see something beautiful and lively, chromatic. Epic and often exuberant, full of lines overlapping with pattern and movement. The organs in my mother’s body that were filling with cancer look different to me because of your artwork. I saw energy, I saw her perseverance, vivaciousness.

I can’t remember if I ever told her about your artwork. I think I was afraid to be implying she should love her cancer or love her colon, liver, lungs and linings which is where it all went. Instead I loved her as much as I could and I loved your drawings privately for myself in a way to make peace with the situation. Thank you for that. I wish you a happy new year. Thank you for doing what the doctors couldn’t do. You gave me a beautiful visual through which I upheld my mom the best I could.

I’ve had interaction with Margaret about her relationship with her mother and how my work affects her, since 2016. In that time I’ve sent along images (a couple below) as she requested. And I aways sent my best wishes for her and her mother.

I tell Margaret my interest is in both the physical body and in the subtle body. I feel she responds to both but most especially she picks up on the subtle (the unconfined and the constant). Margaret will always share connection with her mother. I appreciate knowing my drawings remind her of this.

Contacting me this summer, she looks for a work, something small, intimate and feminine in quality. I love the request and pull a few small, 2-sided, translucent studies. I call these pieces milagros, Spanish for miracle. The votive offering itself is connected to altars and/or shrines. I also call these small artworks holders of light because they do hang in space,  taking in and reflecting out on both sides. I photograph and send her a number of them, including the breast/mammary gland, which is the one she chooses.

Thank you Margaret for sharing the beautiful spirit of your mother with me. I wish you and your sister the very best. #Motherline #HolderOfLight

Milagro photo courtesy of Margaret Bruning #life

This post is dedicated to Elena Lisbeth Sette Bruning, beloved mother, who passed on Dec 13th, 2018. #nowomanisanisland


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

©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

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).

macrophage – large. eating. cell.

Laying out and studying a white blood cell called a macrophage (Greek makrós – large, phagein – to eat).

macrophage

Big eater, what’s your specialty?

Macrophage, your lot belongs to the immune system. You are King of the Phagocytes. Phagocytes are cells that protect the body by absorbing/eliminating harmful particles, bacteria and dead or dying cells. M1 macrophages attack invaders (microbes) by creating an area of inflammation around them. Perhaps you keep pathogens from spreading? M2 macrophages decrease inflammation and encourage tissue repair.

Side note…
Based on this, can I make 2 simple assumptions? Can I deduce chronic inflammation signifies organ or tissue has been invaded by a pathogen or there is injury?

Macrophage, you can take up residence in specific organs. For example, they call you Microglia in the CNS,  you are a Kupffer cell in the liver, and Adipose tissue macrophage in Adipose tissue. And other macrophages, like scavengers, you wander the body cleaning it up.

You remove dying or dead cells and cellular debris by engulfing pathogens and digest/destroying them. Sometimes a pathogen sabotages your process and decides to live inside of you. In the case of the latter, the immune system doesn’t have a clue (or does it?) as the invader begins to replicate itself.

macrophage with bacteria and debris

I know you a little better because I’ve drawn you. You are as intimidating as you are beautiful.


Postscript:
Right now I am looking at the relationship between gut bacteria ( the microbiome) and adipose tissue. Here now enters the immune system. The reason I took the time to draw out and investigate the macrophage (I don’t pretend to understand.) is because I made a connection to the microglia in the brain.
I was studying the brain (My father lives with Alzheimer’s Disease.) last summer. I keep thinking and saying I will go back to the brain when I finish whatever I am currently working on…but as it is…it really is all connected.
#SmallPictureIsBigPicture #Connections #Art #Life #Science


©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

portrait of veronica – new work

I don’t talk about this too much (if at all) but I do believe all of our organs are in constant communication with each other…and with us. Well…they’re not really separate from us. Nor are we separate from our environment…nor from each other.


As many times as I’ve drawn the skeletal system, I feel I should have it memorized by now. I don’t. Every body is unique.

Next month will be 4 years since Veronica had bariatric surgery.

I still have the x-ray she sent me of her stomach, post surgery.  I didn’t (and still don’t) recognize the organ though I recognized surrounding tissue. Within minutes of her sending the photo, my cousin and I were on the phone talking. I was surprised (and still am) to learn they’d removed 3/4 of her stomach. I remember 2 thoughts (I kept to myself): How is it possible? And what about the vagus nerve?! I still wonder about the latter.

That evening she told me about the numerous health complications being overweight can cause including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart failure. And we know obesity can lead to a number of cancers. I recall Veronica saying she was on the cusp of becoming diabetic.

She spoke about the side effects of her surgery as well as possible future complications including lockjaw and osteoporosis. Ouch! Is it worth the risk? She responded with a definitive Yes!

Not only was she concerned about her health, she also didn’t like the way she looked. It’s not me! It’s not me! 

Veronica used to call me because she was studying art history. We talked art. With this one phone call I learned a lot about my cousin. I’m sure neither of us imagined a study coming from the conversation. Though I did hold on to the x-ray.

Composition layout.

Fast forward to early this summer…
I mention in an earlier post, a meeting with Dr. Joe Alcock whose area of research is the microbiome. I tell him I want to learn more/work the subject. I’m thinking Microbiome 101 or a…let me introduce you to…sort of composition. Instead he suggests a focus on the obesity aspect.

Putting something into context is really the best way to learn.

Did I mention Veronica is almost done with school? And if things go her way,  she’ll be a surgical technician in the field of bariatrics. On a recent visit to El Paso, we set time aside to meet.  We talk and then I photograph and outline her.

Once again, she shares with me how it felt to be in a heavy body.  And then she moves on to describe the changes since the surgery; her feet are smaller and no more snoring. She happily notes her participation in kickboxing, cross-fit and yoga. I  ran! A 5K!  She has no regrets.

She tells me about the soda she occasionally allows herself. I have to be careful. Carbonation, she explains, expands the stomach. Yes, she’s gained back some of the weight.

What do you miss? What was your favorite (crave) food? Macaroni and cheese, Mexican style, canned milk, tomato sauce, butter and lots of cheese. This detail makes its way into the study.

What influences your food choices? Could it be microbes?

The plan includes a portrait of Veronica while I/you learn more about gut microbes and their link to obesity. (I’ve had a curiosity about microbes and auto-immune diseases for a good while.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 95 million adults (in the USA) live with obesity (47.0% are Hispanic, 46.8% non-Hispanic black, 37.9% are non-Hispanic whites and 12.7% non Hispanic Asians).


Joe connected with me during a time when my work was at Sky Harbor Airport.  We finally met in person during the run of my solo exhibition at the UofA medical school. He introduced me to the human microbiome. And because he comes from an evolutionary  medicine background, I am understanding the idea of adaptation, especially where health and disease are concerned. Joe believes fat has a defense function. It helps prevent bacteria from invading us. Obesity has more to do with our bodies relationship to the microbial world.

I have come to the conclusion that microbes are responsible for everything!

Did I mention I feel like I am in over my head…a good sign.

Joe Alcock has a podcast I access directly via SoundCloud → EvolutionMedicine. 
He has several episodes on the topic of obesity. The format usually includes a conversation between him and a colleague.  For me, this sort of back and forth talk makes the complicated stuff a little more accessible.


©2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

art on a cellular level

What:    Art on a Cellular Level
Where:  Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Terminal 4, Level 3 Gallery
When:   Now!
Opened June 29, 2019 and runs through January 12, 2020

Portrait of Pillar

Arizona artists include:
Alan Bur Johnson, Jerome AZ
Bill Dambrova, Phoenix, AZ
Danielle Wood, Tempe, AZ
Jesse Armstrong, Gilbert, AZ
Kathryn Maxwell, Tempe, AZ
Mary Meyer, Gold Canyon, AZ
Monica Aissa Martinez, Phoenix, AZ

Science and art have a lot in common. Driven by curiosity, both fields involve exploration and discovery. Relying on observation, scientists and artists both attempt to understand and describe the world around us. They strive to see things in new ways and to communicate that vision.
While science may embody the rational, art expresses the aesthetic. This exhibition presents the work of seven artists that draw inspiration from the natural environment. With an interest in living organisms, these artists create works that celebrate the richness of life on our planet.

Artists, like scientists, utilize processes to make the unseen visible. They imaginatively represent things that we would need a microscope to see. From molecular structures of DNA to patterns of organic forms to the intricacies of human anatomy, these artists draw, paint, sculpt or construct Art on a Cellular Level.

Couple in front of the work of Bill Dambrova.

Over the 4th of July holiday while traveling, I enjoy watching people move through the space. ↑

I meet an emergency medic and his wife, who talk to me about the vegus nerve and the breath. ↓

The Phoenix Airport Museum is one of the largest airport art programs in the United States.
More → Sky Harbor Museum