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.

draw, the art of curiosity and innovation

Artist-in-Residence studio spaces

One of three artist-in-residence, I will spend a couple of days, for the next 12 weeks, at the Tempe Center for the Arts (researching dementia and Alzheimer’s). They (we) set up our 3 studio spaces ↑. Mine includes a desk that resembles the one I have in my home studio. ↓

My studio area, and the beautiful braincase

Now to get used to working in a public space…

Arriving early, I decide to organize a blog post. My computer is not picking up wi-fi. Ahhh… I forgot the USB cable to connect my camera and computer. But hey, my camera works!

I enjoy looking closely at the work as I shoot details.

Ryan Carey

Beth Shook

Carolyn Lavender

Laura Tanner Graham

Christopher Jagmin

Mary Shindell

Matthew Dickson

Hyewon Yoon

Bobby Zokaites (Artist-in-Residence)

Kyllan Maney (Artist-in-Residence)

The gallery includes several art maker ↓ spaces.

Before the afternoon is over these women ↑ (who before entering the gallery were out enjoying Tempe Town Lake) walk over to my table. They want to talk about my work – the drawing of my father in particular. I gather they’re related: mother, daughter and grand-daughter. We talk about their family, aging and dementia. I also talk to a couple of other people including a friend who is an artist.

I drive home knowing we are all in this together. The connector is art.


We’re working things out. Hours subject to change until they’re not…
I’ll be in studio on Tuesday and possibly Thursday
Kyllan Maney considers Tuesday and Thursday or Saturday.
Bobby Zokaites plans for Wednesday and Saturday.

TCA has a drawing workshops scheduled almost every Saturday for the duration of the summer. More info →  draw: the art of curiosity and innovation
 

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.


i call him sudan

The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants. – David Attenborough


This week I read about the death of gentle Sudan. Pulling a copy of Albert Dürer’s Rhinoceros, I spend Friday painting a small paper-mache rhino that sits (well over 2-years)  on my studio table.

#lastmalenorthernrhino #sudan

 

complex structure and surface texture

The class assignment is complicated…

I ask students to look at and draw complex (interesting) structure and (interesting) surface texture. I have an array of subject-matter including insects, lizards and sea-shells for students to choose. I hope everyone picks up at least one bug but I know not everyone will.

First semester students use only markers (and paper) while second semester students use scratchboard. Everyone is required to use a magnifying glass. They work 4 days (about 12 hours) in class. Many take the drawing home over Spring Break, to complete.

Critique covers the strengths and weaknesses of the finished work. We talk about the process and the challenges of the assignment. And we discuss the elements of design.

Here are a hand full of the completed drawings. I include a few process and detail shots.

…complicated but beautiful!

 

Diana Three Bees

 

Diana Two Bees

 

Jezebel Grasshopper and a Lizard

 

Nina’s Moth

Maw draws a shell and a cicada titled Corpse vs Death

Alisza’s cicada –  Mother

Carlos “There was Four”

 

Kaylani’s Badger

Dustin

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.