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.


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microscopic organisms in my studio (here, there and everywhere)

In a recent interview Nicole begins by asking, “Who are you and what do you do?” I wonder if she knows I consider these questions all the time.

Who am I? What am I? What is this world? What is my relationship to it?

This summer, as artist-in-residence at the Tempe Center for the Arts, I study and draw out  the incredible human brain. My answer (to the set up of questions) then, could go something like – I am a nervous system. I am neurons and glia firing up a brain. 

As of recent I study microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea and protists. Today – I am an (human) organism made up of (hosting) micro (too small to see without magnification) organisms.

Note: My series of compositions include external and internal views and are ginormous considering…

In the course of this current interest (more like revelation) in microorganisms, I come across a virus that takes me back to the residency research where I look at the healthy brain and the diseased brain (In general I looked at Dementia, in particular I tried to understand Alzheimer’s Disease).

Meet M13 (Munich13), a bacteriophage (or simply a phage).

External (proteins)

A phage is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria. M13 invades E Coli.

M13 catches my attention when I come across an article explaining how the virus dissolves (in laboratory studies) amyloid-beta plaques and tao tangles.  #combatneurodegenerativedisease  #Alzheimer’s  #Parkinson’s. #Huntington’s
#Creutzfeldt-Jakob

Here (↑ ↓) you have my best interpretation of the M13 filamentous bacteriophage.

Internal structure (composed of a single stranded DNA molecule encased in a thin flexible tube (protein coat)

…Life (microscopic organisms) in the studio (here, there and everywhere).

#microorganisms #microbiota #humanmicrobiome #weareone

archaea/m.smithii – old/new

Methanobrevibacter smithii, AKA M. smithii, member of Archaea domain, I don’t know of you before this. I feel bad considering you are descendants of the oldest life in existence.

Archaea derives from the Greek word achaios, meaning ancient or primitive.

M. smithii look how beautiful you are…

The single-celled microorganism Methanobrevibacter smithii,  the most abundant  archaeon in the human gut, aids in digestion of complex sugars. These microbes are a hydrogenotroph (consumes hydrogen) and a methanogen (produces methane). Yes, they are manufacturers of gas!

Methano refers to its connection with methane, and brevibacter means short rod. There appears to be an association between gas production and body weight. M. Smithii may influence weight gain and loss (anorexia) as well as constipation.

These microorganisms are prokaryotes having no cell nucleus (or any other membrane-bound organelle). Archaea, in general, are unique in that they have a distinct biochemistry.

About archaea and life…
They’ve been around for about 4 billion years! They’re resilient, truly thriving between order and chaos, proving life creative – even in time of crisis.

#history #inthebeginning #theytookabreath

 

white becoming white

Candida albicans, member of the Saccharomycetaceae (yeast) family as well as the human microbial community, I especially enjoy painting you fungus. I wasn’t planning on it, but maybe I’ll draw another member of your fungi kingdom.


The word Candida comes from the Latin candidus, meaning white. Albicans derives from the Latin word albicō, meaning becoming white. White becoming white.

Man, are we loaded with bugs! I never gave this stuff a thought…by stuff I mean the variety of microorganisms, including candida, holding microscopic space in the human body.

This fungus is most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and mouth (in at least 80% of the worldwide population). In some circles Candida aids in food digestion and absorption, while in other circles (the out of control circles?) it’s known as an opportunistic pathogen.

Candida albicans under the microscope.

The fungus (yeast) is naturally  found in the human body, primarily in the intestine, colon and mouth. Out of control, it can attack skin and mucous membranes. It can also travel through  the blood stream and affect kidneys, heart, lungs, throat and heart-valves. (Is this what it means to be metabolically flexible?)

cellular structure.

C. albicans is an eukaryotic organism. It’s structure includes a cell wall (which seems an important aspect to this microorganism), nucleus, ribosomes and mitochondria. I don’t know what it means when I read hyphae sense reproductive units from a distance and grow towards them but it makes me think of an electric pull.

I appreciate the lace-like quality of the organic form. The long branches, called hyphae (web) with their circular budded tip, appeal to me. This subject-matter is visually elegant and playful. Candida itself, complicated.

Here is what I wonder:
Candida albicans are commensal. We eat at the same table? I take this to mean they consume what the human host consumes. Yes? Or do they eat what the host discards?  Mutually beneficial?
Is C. albicans overgrowth always seen as an attack on the body? Can the out of control set up be a warning sign of another imbalance (other microbes) in the human body? 

#Microbiota #NewToMe #LoveDrawingMicroorganisms