My imagery took a new direction when my son, a student of neuroscience and home for a break, wandered into my studio and caught a glance of some of my works in progress. He commented how similar the imagery seemed to the figures from the papers he’d been reading, and after I took a skeptical look at the research, I found myself in stark agreement. Our initial conversations further spurred my interest in his discipline, and I began to seek out more images from the field.
The first paintings I completed in this series took inspiration from a set of neurobiology papers published between 2007 and 2013. In the articles, the researchers introduced a transgenic cell labeling method—Brainbow—that allows neuroscientists to extend traditional confocal microscopy to a multitude of colors. My acrylic abstractions reflect Brainbow mouse hippocampal sections. As the hippocampus is largely thought of as a topological candidate for memory formation, the textural pieces are an invitation to meditate on the biological and aesthetic bases of memory.
Today, my neuroscience-inspired paintings are less literal. A broader rumination on connections has led to a more contemplative and abstract body of work.
Connections, of course, are more than neural. Beyond our dense network of synapses is a human connection to the natural world; a connection perhaps afforded by the brain and the rest of the nervous system, but distinct nonetheless. Further connections—networks, bridges, links, relationships; causal and otherwise—are part and parcel to what it means to be a contemporary human being. And doesn’t art always have to sneak in a bit of investigation into being?
Upon any serious inspection, our pristine, often binary, relations—body and mind, earth and sky, life and death, perception and reality—give way to the intrigue of the spectral: emotion, creativity, aestheticism, ambiguity. This depth is the object of my most recent work.
Sometimes I wonder why I paint; why a certain object or landscape lends inspiration and warrants response. Is my need to respond a true need, in the same way one needs to eat? It certainly feels that way.
Of course, then we’re left again with the brain’s alluring complexity, where we, collectively, haven’t made much progress. Contemporary neuroscience suggests that we likely do not have a cortical region for processing aesthetics as we do sight and speech. Which isn’t entirely surprising—and I’m glad it’s more complicated than that. What we do know is that aesthetics are embedded in connections. Any theory of neural aestheticism rests on a sticky, combinatorial bundle of emotion, sensation, memory, and meaning. It seems only fair that some of the tools of inquiry here be rooted in expression.
All images courtesy and copyright of Bonnie Cutts
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