The artwork of Greg Dunn starts off simple, typically with circular blobs of liquid black ink on a piece of paper. With a few strong puffs of air, the blobs grow finger-like tendrils that stretch outward — and in turn, those tendrils split off into even smaller branches. Eventually, the paper is covered with what looks like a leafless, black forest.
This ink blowing technique, discovered as a happy accident by Dunn, turns out to be the perfect way to mimic the sprawling, fractal-like complexity of neurons. Instead of a brush, he blows on droplets of ink through a thin tube to depict the shape of neurons and their branches, called dendrites. Dendrites receive messages from other neurons while an elongated trunk known as an axon takes information away.
I will be exhibiting reflective microetchings, prints, scrolls, and gold leaf paintings at the Society for Neuroscience meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC November 15th-19th from 10am-4pm each day. The address for the convention center is801 Mt Vernon Pl NW, Washington, DC 20001. The general public should be able to walk into the convention center to see the booth, and you should not have to be registered to do so.
My collaborator Dr. Brian Edwards and I have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create an enormous microetching of the human brain at as close to full complexity as possible! The full work will be completed and installed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 2016. We are very excited about this project, and you can find out more about it here.
New York Hall of Science, Queens. Opens Oct. 11. Adults $11, children and seniors $8.
By JASCHA HOFFMAN
This art exhibition offers some new ways of looking at that three-pound hunk of jelly in your skull. Some do it with humor: a mock-infographic that shows a brain hinged open to reveal dozens of tiny people scurrying about, and an elegantly staged photograph of a small brain on a dinner plate with serving spoons. Some offer neural self-portraits, like the artist with multiple sclerosis who paints Technicolor versions of her brain scans on silk, and the artist who gives an unsettling depiction of the white “aura” that appears in her field of vision before a migraine headache. Of the 42 works selected by a gallery director and a neuroscientist, most were from artists, “perhaps because entries from scientists tend to be too didactic,” said Cynthia Pannucci, the founder and director of Art & Science Collaborations Inc., who organized the exhibition. Among the most moving, however, were those that simply show the anatomy, such as “Cortical Columns,” a haunting panel by the neuroscientist-turned-painter Greg Dunn, who uses gold and silver powders, ink and dye to render nerve cells in all their branchiness, like saplings waiting for winter.
Neurons and Other Memories exhibit in Miller Gallery evoke connected world
by Rachel CohenOct 12, 2014
“The aesthetic highlight of the exhibit is Greg Dunn’s series of four beautiful, shimmering works: “Purkinje Neurons,” “Synaptogenesis,” “Glomerulus,” and “Retina I” are enamel depictions of neural connections on leaves of gold, copper, and aluminum.”
A neuroscientist-artist draws inspiration from the materials and techniques of Asian scroll painting to visualize the complex wiring of the brain.
by Greg Dunn for American Scientist
Both art and science arise from our root desires to describe our experience of reality. From this starting point, the artistic and scientific paths diverge. Science describes external reality, about which we share a consensus. Art captures our internal, subjective realities. But the two sides do not always stand apart. My own work can best be described as science/art, not simply because I paint that which scientists study but because I draw evenly from artistic and scientific approaches to capture the essence of the neurons that carry sensations and produce thought.
My artistic career began during my tenure as a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. As I came to learn, molecular research can be an existential exercise in that you must rely on machines and chemical reagents to “see” your experiments. Painting provided me a welcome respite from lab frustrations because it gave me a sense of control. When painting, I can experiment and immediately see the result, judge it against my intentions, and iterate as necessary. I can convey my thoughts to the world without having to worry about grants, contaminated compounds, the politics of publishing, or an unexpected flood in the mouse room threatening to wash away my study subjects.
i am a visiting artist at the Mind and Life Meeting, June 15-21st, Garrison, NY.
I was invited to exhibit artwork and give a talk at the Mind and Life Meeting at the Garrison Institute in NY in June this year. This meeting features a discussion between neuroscientists, meditators, artists, and researchers in the contemplative disciplines. I am honored to be a part of it. You can also see some of my art hanging there at the moment.
When Greg Dunn finished his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Penn in 2011, he bought himself a sensory deprivation tank as a graduation present. The gift marked a major life transition, from the world of science to a life of meditation and art.
Now a full-time artist living in Philadelphia, Dunn says he was inspired in his grad-student days by the spare beauty of neurons treated with certain stains. The Golgi stain, for example, will turn one or two neurons black against a golden background. “It has this Zen quality to it that really appealed to me,” Dunn said.
Halfway through his PhD program in neuroscience at UPenn, Greg Dunn was inspired to try a new experiment: using the brain structures he was seeing in the lab as the subject matter for his minimalist Asian-inspired paintings.
“In grad school, I would be looking at these images all day, and I was already on an Asian-art wavelength,” Dunn says. “One day I saw some images of Golgi-stained neurons, and I thought, ‘They’re sort of similar to these Zen paintings I’ve done.’ So I started experimenting, blowing ink around on a page. And it looked like neurons to me.”
If you’ve perused the current issue of Tricycle, you’ll have seen the beautiful and intricate artwork that illustrates our article about the convergence of Buddhism and neuroscience, “A Gray Matter,” by Columbia University professor of Japanese religion Bernard Faure. If these images seem hauntingly familiar, it’s for a reason. They’re of the neurons in our brains! The artist behind them, Greg Dunn, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a doctorate in neuroscience last year. Since then, he’s been focusing on painting in his easily identifiable style: a modern, science-based twist on the ancient East Asian brush painting technique of sumi-e. Like the Buddhist monks who first practiced sumi-e, Dunn grounds the creation of his art in meditative practice—a sumi-e painting, as Dunn and many others before him have pointed out, is a reflection of the artist’s internal state.
Dunn’s artwork was like nothing the Tricycle editors had seen before, and we were curious to find out exactly how he did it. Tricycle’s Alex Caring-Lobel and Emma Varvaloucas caught up with Dunn via email last month to find out more about the neuro-painter’s creative process.
You can google translate the whole article if you don’t read French. Its so poetically written.
Mais il est une autre dimension de la nature, tout aussi spectaculaire que celles-là, et je dirais plus fondamentale encore puisque sans elle toute la diversité du comportement animal n’existerait pas. Je parle bien sûr de la complexité de nos cellules nerveuses, tant dans leur forme, qui n’est pas sans rappeler celle des arbres, que dans leur organisation entre elles, digne de la forêt vierge tropicale (où ce qu’il en reste…).
Though art and neuroscience may initially seem like severely different disciplines, artists and neuroscientists have more in common than one might think. For example, as Dunn himself proclaimed, “Part of being an artist or a scientist is living your life with the intent to solve a problem: wanting to know more about something that you’re interested in, and allowing yourself to become utterly obsessed and consumed by the problem.” It appears that Dunn has done exactly that, and in the process has produced some captivating pieces of art and compelling scientific theories. The Airspace had a fascinating opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Dunn about the science behind his art, and the art behind his science.
Neuroscience Art: Greg Dunn’s Neurons Painted In Japanese Sumi-e Style – interview with Greg.
Some of the works, like “Hippocampus II,” give those of us who do not spend a lot of time around a microscope a look at the complex architecture of our neurons. And then there are the occasional stumpers that are impossible to decipher as neuron or nature. “Two Pyramidals,” for example, look like upside down dandelions far more than, as Dunn explained over the phone, “a type of neuron found in the brain that integrate information received from their dendrites, process it, and transmit it to other cells through its axon.”
In February 2012, two large format commissioned paintings, Cortex in Metallic Pastels and NG2+ Flare (link to the gold leaf page here), are completed and installed at the Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University.
Fifteen works are currently on display at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm campus in Ashland, Virginia. This exhibit will be taken down and reinstalled at the HHMI headquarters in Washington DC on May 1st, 2012, and will be exhibited until July 2012.
Interview and online gallery posted on the Neuroscience themed online publication The Beautiful Brain by Noah Hutton:
Beneath all, what do you find beautiful about the brain?
GD:It is literally the most complicated object in the known Universe! The tremendous knot of cells when connected in a certain way gives rise to a strange sense of “I” that is able to ponder and learn things about its environment. It is an utter miracle, and is at the root of why we are conscious beings able to appreciate this world and all of its beauty. How can you not love it?
Hippocampus II appears on the cover of the journal Neurosurgery, along with a full length article written by journalist David Haldeman.
…Dunn is a 6th year PhD candidate in Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, and his approach to art mirrors his scientific background. He uses pipettes to deliver precise
amounts of pigment to the canvas, creates wet lab-style
workflow protocols so that he can accurately reproduce techniques later, makes digital mock-ups of a project before putting his brush to canvas, and uses his knowledge of chemistry to precisely manipulate the variety of materials he utilizes in his work. Further, Dunn’s knowledge of the visual system deeply informs his creative process. Continue reading →
I used to have a beautiful gold Japanese folding screen, which was purchased by my great-grandmother’s feisty sister on a trip in the 1920s. I loved the gold patina and the surprisingly modern impact it had on my wall. At the moment, it’s loaned to a friend, but looking at Greg Dunn’s artwork, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the best aspects of my screen: the gold leaf, crisp black patterns, and way that the scene seemed half natural, half abstract.
“Neurons and Nature,” a collection of work by Dunn, a fourth-year graduate student in neuroscience at Penn Medicine, is on display through Aug. 6. Dunn’s paintings are inspired by his study of neurons – the cells that make up the brain – his admiration of Asian art and his love of nature.