This post is part of my coverage of the Art of Neuroscience Exhibit held from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm through Wednesday. The artists are located in the Convention Center’s L Street Bridge.
Greg Dunn has a doctorate in neuroscience and an interest in "exploring the fusion of art and science through designs in gold leaf". He began his art career with minimalist neurons painted in the Asian sumi-e style. However, his focus has changed in the last few years to a more complex style. In his recent work he strives to show the complexity of the brain without overwhelming the viewer.
For this new direction, Greg began a collaboration with Dr. Brian Edwards, a physicist and engineer at the University of Pennsylvania. Together, they created a new medium, microetching, to achieve the level of complexity he was reaching for. The best example of this new style, according to Greg, is his piece Brainbow Hippocampus. The piece is eye-catching at 24" x 32" in a custom-made shadow box, which provides specific LED lighting. The image in this post does not do it justice because it is a dynamic piece that invites the viewer to move from side to side to see "background neurons". Luckily, you still have time to view this piece in person! If you weren't able to attend SfN or if you're not a neuroscientist, you can see a video on his website. But if you're here, seriously, go see it in person!
Brainbow Hippocampus is a piece of almost overwhelming beauty that provides exquisite detail of the hippocampus. As neuroscientists, we're so used to capturing and seeing images of the brain in detail that we erroneously assume Greg uses microscopic images as templates for his pieces. The truth is impressive: Greg draws the neurons by hand. Once drawn, he scans the neurons into the computer and pieces them together in Photoshop to create the "final" image. Then comes the magic.
The process that Greg and Brian Edwards developed takes these "final" images and gives them dimension using microetching. Each neuron and it's processes are given etched hashmarks in specific direction using a pseudorandom algorithm that determines which layer in which the neuron will appear. After etching, Greg applies gold leaf over the top of the piece to provide the reflective surface needed for the final result. The final piece was placed in a custom-made shadow box with LED lights shining on the piece at precise angles. With white light the piece appears gold and when standing still in front of it it is a beautiful depiction of the hippocampus. But when you move from side to side neurons appear to fall behind or jump in front of other neurons. The perceived depth and dynamic movement is astounding.
But that was not enough for Greg. He also added colored LEDs at specific angles in the shadow box. When illuminated with the colored lights the piece looks much like the Brainbow neurons. The perceived depth as you move the piece is conserved but the colors of the neurons also changes adding another layer of dynamicism.
Recently, Greg and Brian received a grant from the National Science Foundation to create a new piece that will be 8' x 12' (yes, that's feet not inches). It will be a sagittal view of the brain and more complex than Brainbow Hippocampus. His website has more information about this upcoming project.
There are a range of pieces with him here at SfN starting at prices under $100, with a 20% discount for graduate students. There are prints, scrolls, his gold leaf series, and other microetched pieces.
Stop by Greg's booth between 10 am - 4 pm through Wednesday.