no woman is an island

Hi. I love your Torso images. Do you have similar work available? Dennis

This simple note arrives on September 13, 2014. Chosen for the State of the Art, Discovering American Art Now exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum, my studio visit makes the cover of the arts section in the NYT.  I receive email from across the country.
It still makes me smile. I am overwhelmed in the best possible way.

Eventually Dennis inquires about a commission. He let me know he’d prefer a male, anterior view anatomy study. He’s a cardiologist, the connection to the heart is the draw. Willing to wait as long as needed (his words), I decide he’s a patient man. In our correspondence I also gather he’s thoughtful. He describes how he works with artists to foster both creativity and opportunity. He writes that he rarely buys paintings, though he loves and collects glass sculpture.

Fast forward to September 2017

Hi Monica – I contacted you a few years ago … I had discussed a piece in your torso series. Do you have any completed works in line with that body of work you might have for sale at present?  Dennis

I have work and send him images. It doesn’t take him long to decide on a painting titled  Front Body, Male.

Front Body, Male,  Casein and Gesso on Canvas,  34 x 13″

I now know his full name is Dr. Dennis Chugh.  I very much appreciate his reconnecting after all this time.

Front Body, Male will be on display at the University of Arizona medical school opening in a few short weeks.  I am happy to note the painting is his. I will borrow it for the exhibit, Nothing In Stasis. The show will run to March.

Dennis will have to wait a little longer for the work. His response: I’m in no hurry. I’m so glad your work is being seen (and sold).

Thank you Dennis, for reaching out and for the support of my work.


Dennis Chugh is a cardiologist who appreciates the arts and is also a maker of beautiful objects. He has blown glass for several years.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

You can see more of his colorful Aviary Cilinders at → dennischugh.com


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


deep in the solar plexus – the pancreas

I love the shape and texture of the pancreas – long, flat, soft and flexible. I’ve drawn it before and wonder why didn’t I note it tucked deep into the solar plexus? This organ carries some energy!

The 6″ organ sits behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The head of the pancreas nuzzles the duodenum while the tail end tapers into the spleen. The organ is gray-pink in color but because I want to emphasize subtle energy, my representation is yellow (golden) dominant.

Pancreas (anterior)

The pancreas plays a role in both the endocrine system and the digestive system.

As part of the endocrine system the pancreas produces hormones (insulin, glucagon, somatostatin and pancreatic polypeptide), secreting them directly into the bloodstream. One of its jobs is to monitor the bloodstream. When the pancreas detects a rise in glucose levels it responds by producing a hormone called insulin. Insulin attaches to cells signaling them to open up and absorb the glucose (basic fuel for the body) from your blood.  Insulin allows cells to receive the energy they need and ensures blood glucose level remains stable.

It also holds an exocrine function involving secretion of digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates, lipids, and in particular – proteins – aiding in digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.

Pancreas (posterior) Slight color variation signifies – from left to right – the tail, body, neck and head

Symbolically:
The pancreas is located in the solar plexus, the area representing the center of will.
Connected to it are the energies of stability, instinct and intuition, along with will, courage, choice, action and peace.

Caroline Myss connects the pancreas to the sweetness in our life…ahhh glucose.


I am in the planning with the University of Arizona medical school for a solo exhibition. I hope to include the endocrine system I designed last year. Because the pancreas from that original series found a buyer, I draw another. Returning to it allows more insight.

altar of incense, the ethmoid bone

Coming across an image of the ethmoid bone, I love its wild structure. I wonder where in the body is this angular (cubical) bone located?

Quickly I learn it is one of 8 bones of the cranium.

Look to the top centered, dark area inside and underneath ↑ the skullcap. This is one side of the ethmoid bone. It separates the nasal cavity from the brain.  (Man…do I really need to clean this skull. Though for this purpose the dirty area works as a marker.)

From the front of the skull, the Ethmoid bone sits at the roof of the nose, between the two orbits forming the inner edges of the eye sockets. Ethmos is Greek and means sieve. The bone is lightweight and spongy, full of air spaces and canals.

Ethmoid bone (anterior view)

Neurons of smell travel thorough the ethmoid and the olfactory bulbs that lie atop, across what is called the cribriform plate. If this narrow and deeply grooved plate is broken one loses their sense of smell. All olfactory nerves travel through the crosses and canals of the ethmoid.

Ethmoid bone (posterior view)

I enjoy drawing the front and back of this beautiful bone.

About its symbolism:
In more esoteric teaching it is called the altar of incense, representing the altar in the sanctuary.  The altar of incense is the place of prayer and this bone represent the principle of prayer.

Inhale deeply!  Consider the lovely ethmoid and know it connects to your sense of smell.

anatomy of arousal

“I didn’t hear words that were accurate, much less prideful. For example, I never once heard the word clitoris. It would be years before I learned that females possessed the only organ in the human body with no function than to feel pleasure. (If such an organ were unique to the male body, can you imagine how much we would hear about it—and what it would be used to justify?)”
― Gloria Steinem, The Vagina Monologues

 

“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure.”
Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues


Christine, based in London, is completing a training (here in the states) to become a Fertility Awareness Educator. Interested in using my artwork (the reproduction system) as teaching material, she contacts me.

While the work is grounded in scientific medical illustration, it is also abstracted. I use symbolic color and line suggesting the subtle energy of the human body. As it turns out she is also a Massage and Craniosacral Therapy practitioner and understands why I explain – it may or may not work as traditional teaching material.

We share some goals, in this particular case, to educate and empower women.

I admit since beginning our correspondence, I’ve learned what (almost) feels like a new language! Christine asks if you were to draw something up from scratch for us – for example the internal anatomy showing the full anatomy of arousal, what is your rates? I respond in a practical way giving general information for a commission and prices.

Though all the while I’m wondering…what exactly is the full anatomy of arousal?

Eventually while speaking with her (where are my notes!) I realize I think sensual as she clarifies sexual anatomy. She explains more and I really do feel like I am hearing a foreign language.

She emphasizes the clitoris, crura (2 legs extending 9 cm into the pelvis), and bulbs of the vestibule (two – one laying to either side of the vaginal opening). She directs me to reference material, including images and books.

I respond to the information Christine sends. The plexus of veins and the arteries (like a hammock), and the nerves among all the forms also catch my attention. I know they will make for added (and beautiful) detail, shape and texture.

I am further educated by my friend Tara, a Pelvic Floor Specialist. I say to her, I don’t like pink, I don’t want to paint anything pink. She explains color indicates health (pink it is). Once again she lends me her medical pelvis model with ↓bladder, uterus and colon (I plan to include). And she too, provides me with reading material.

I start to organize a composition and I can’t help but recall The Dinner Party and the work of Judy Chicago ↓. I am further reminded of the politics of the female body as I continue to research other artist’s work.

Judy Chicago, test plate, 1978 National Museum of Women in the Arts (photo by C. Lavender)

Right now the study sits on my drawing table. I might add one more element. And then I’ll consider the title of the small painting on mylar.

I leave you with a few interesting facts…

  • The clitoris has at least 8000 nerve endings (a man’s penis has about 4000).
  • The clitoris and the crura are referred to as the wish bone because their structure resembles one.
  • One single gene on a Y chromosome and a clitoris (female) becomes…you guessed it…a penis (male).
  • Clitoris is Greek for key. It has only one job.

I plan to ask Christine if she wants to say anything about the anatomy of arousal. If she agrees, look for a future post.

There is so much to our body – take care to know it.

a drawing of the nervous system and a poem titled signal

I send a note to Kelly: Kind of spontaneous thinking…you mentioned once – maybe us working together on body stuff. Are you interested? I am working on the nervous system. It’s so beautiful! It feels like the hardest thing I think I’ve taken on.

Kelly responds: What a lovely surprise! I too remember that conversation we had, have thought back to it, intrigued by the possibility. So yes, perhaps this is a time to see what would turn out, turn up, emerge, your images and my words.

Today: Monica, here is, below, a poem, inspired by your nervous system art. I hope you like it! It’s been mind altering to think, even this small bit, about our bodies and how they work.

I love it Kelly. Thank you!


Nervous System – Female (posterior view)

 

Signal  by Kelly Nelson

Noises, plenty—

steady bass line of the heart, wheeze
and let go of the bellows, gasp

and trickle of your last meal
switchbacking your gut.

Yet when brain tells
hand to play the G above middle C,

when skin mentions
the stove is still hot,

it’s all nudge and nod, quiet
wink of the nervous system.

I want my messages heard.
At the intersection

of my left arm and rib
cage, place a herald with the voice

of Maya Angelou to recite the red
threads and bird wings that radiate

through me—Hear? She’s already begun.

 


Kelly Nelson is a poet and teacher.
She is the author of the chapbooks Rivers I Don’t Live By and
Who Was I To Say I Was Alive.
She lives in Tempe, Arizona & teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University.
More → Kelly Nelson

….and yes, we’ll be doing this again.

a ceremony of appreciation

Invited by Dr. Jen Hartmark-Hill,  I make my way to downtown Phoenix for a Ceremony of Appreciation. The event, organized by the Medical and Allied Health students at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, honors individuals who donate their bodies to the anatomy lab.

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Upon arriving I meet Dr. Rebecca Fisher, the director of the Clinical Anatomy lab. She tells me about the personal connection students have to a willed body donor. She shares both the educational aspects as well as some of the emotional impact the experience holds for everyone. I look around the room as we talk and I see students, faculty and their families (newborns are in the mix too). The energy is celebratory as everyone prepares.

The evening includes art, poetry, prose, and music (ukulele, piano, song and dance).

One student names his donor Bruce. You looked like a Bruce to me, he reads into the microphone. Another student tells of holding the hands of her donor and notes the nail polish, chips of color. One guesses the age of his donor and wonders out loud, are you a grandfather?

There is practical (medical) information they gather from their donor’s body along with a natural wonder and  curiosity about the life it held.

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I can’t help but make connections between art students and medical students and their draw to the human body. I have to wonder, do they learn about Leonardo da Vinci in medical and science labs?

The medical students describe the learning experience as 2D (text book or diagram) and compare it to 3D (real-life) experience. Artists use a similar language. Art students study Anatomy (for the artist) to understand the skeletal and muscular system. The study is followed by Life drawing where art students apply what they’ve learned to a live model. Learned and necessary skills to both medicine and art are observation and attention to detail.

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And speaking of detail…
The student who draws this skull and heart ↑ is named Dylan. I introduce myself to him and congratulate his fine work.

I appreciate the imaginative way he personalized the drawings (of his donor). Dylan includes the usual anatomical description seen in medical illustration like frontal bone and then he adds more individualized (and more telling of the human-being) descriptions like bank teller, sweet toothjeopardy loversingle mother, grandmother…etc.

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detail

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As I thank Jen (Dr. Harmtark-Hill) for inviting me, we agree the evening is moving and meaningful. And before we part for the evening  she mentions an approach to education that she calls  Appreciative Inquiry.

 I often speak with my colleagues about the fact that we are privileged to teach these medical students—they are incredibly good and altruistic individuals. If we can find ways to protect that compassion, kindness and caring throughout their medical training, while instilling knowledge and skills, we will have done their future patients a great service.

I understand Appreciative Inquiry to be a way of seeing (worldview) and a way of being (process) that supports the goodness in people (individuals, organizations and communities).

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A letter written to a donor and expressing gratitude.

Thank you Jen for inviting me to this most extraordinary ceremony. And thanks to the students for a creative and moving evening.


As I come to the end of my post I can’t help but think of a phrase that influences the work I do. I know with certainty it directs me to unique experiences like this one.

Summum bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.

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foot notes*

My feet. Still.
More complex than I under. Stand.
Layer upon. Layer.
Points of contact. Mother Earth.
Conductors of.  Magical.


*These are my notes, written as such.

My studio skeleton sits in parts, on my drawing table. I’ve pull the hardware out, separated and laid out the bones. I take a good look at the long and elegant leg bones before moving to the feet.

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Top photo: Femur, aka the thigh bone ↑, is the longest and heaviest bone in the human body.
Bottom photo: The Tibia, aka the shin-bone, and the larger 1 of 2 bones below the knee. It takes all the weight of the body. The fibula, aka calf-bone, which has none of the strength of the tibia, forms part of the ankle joint.

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Bones are living tissue, made up of calcium phosphate and other minerals and collagen (fibers of protein). Minerals make bones hard, collagen makes them flexible. And unlike the skeleton in my studio, hardware does not hold up the skeletal system. Muscles (with the help of tendons and ligaments) hold bones together (can I call the latter software?).


The feet are my current study. Intricate. Wonderful.
The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. A total of 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. I gather this information before I begin working. That’s a lot of stuff to organize into one composition.

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Bones of the foot – Plantar View ↓.  The top sections (above my finger)  are phalanges (love! the word). Metatarsals are the longer bones (between my fingers).
(Prior to the 16th century Vesalius called the metatarsals ossa pedi (bones of the instep), and before that Galen called the area pedian (‘the flat’ of the foot).)

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Bones of the foot – Plantar View

See the round knobby bones my finger sits on ↑ (in the drawing I circle them in green). Those are sesamoid bones (derived from the Latin sesamum – sesame seed). These small bones form in response to strain. They provide (like a pulley) a smooth surface for tendons (that bend the big toe downward) to slide over. I mull over that for a good while …wow. Sesamoid bones are found on various joints throughout the body.

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The mid foot ↑, below the metatarsals, is the area of bones forming the arches. These include the three cuneiform bones, the cuboid bone, and the navicular bone. The hindfoot forms the heel and ankle.

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Plantar View – sole of the foot

To appreciate complexity, I work a 2-sided drawing (of my feet). One side presents the sole of the feet ↑ (bones, tendons and muscles) while the flip side shows the top of the feet ↓ (nerves, arteries and veins).
(I get why Vesalius wanted to draw the body and its layers at all various angles.)

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Dorsal surface – Top of the foot

Feet: science and spirit, physical and subtle.

I hear someone say the feet have a consciousness (*bring awareness and care to your feet). They (*you) can learn how to take care of themselves (*yourself).

Stand. Be aware. Bear equal weight on all four corners of the foot – big toe mound to pinky toe mound, inner ankle to outer ankle. Align the second toe directly in front of the ankle. Then go.

Feet guide the knees and hips, acting as anchors to the earth.
They absorb.
They help us to ground and recharge (more than 7000 nerve endings – think about that!)