The H1N1 flu virus epidemic of 2009 caused severe concerns in Europe. After a few frantic months in which media, public opinion and political decisions created some tornados, the virus settled to stay. It visits Europe every winter, wearing slightly different coats, slightly different strains, ready to take over the high street.
A moment in time inside a eukaryotic cell. Complex and beautiful, full of action and life. The fluidity of the cytoplasm, the different levels of activity of mitochondria and the communication between endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria are the highlights of this very large work (1.2 m square).
He studied medicine in Greifswald, Königsberg, Marburg, and Giessen, and earned his doctorate at the University of Giessen in 1877. Afterwards, he was a prosector at Leipzig, and in 1887 became a professor (extraordinary) of anatomy. He died in Hubertusburg in 1900 from a nervous disorder.
Altmann is known for his work involving cell theory and structure. In his study of animal cells, he investigated small granules in the protoplasm of the cell. He called these particles- bioblasts, which he postulated were elementary organisms that had metabolic and genetic autonomy. Today Altmann’s bioblasts are known as mitochondria. In 1890 Altmann published his findings in a treatise named Die Elementarorganismen (The Elementary Organism), which was met with skepticism by many in the scientific community.
One of my many versions of Altmann’s bioblasts. Today they are called mitochondria, and are the energy-producing elements of cells. I like the vision of Altmann, not just because he was the first observing, describing and naming the organelles, but also because it is a simplification that appeals to me: you see the outline of the cells, the nucleus as a non-entity in the middle, and mitochondria. It was, in fact, an artifact of the process he used to prepare the samples for his microscope.
The blue-green algae. These wonderful sea creatures that bloom and transform the colours of the oceans. Their role in oxygen production in geological times gives them an authority as subjects of my art that speaks by itself. I had a self-contained algae period, and this was one its products. It is a large work, and the nitrogen fixing cells are well integrated into the whole.
One of several versions of ‘mitochondria in action’. This has been one of my most successful themes, although this one is not a particularly good one. As Picasso once said, I often paint fakes. The colours are the same in principle, but quite different in practice. The final result depends on the thickness of the silk I used, the type of paint, the amount of light in the room when I was painting it. Some of the mitochondria in action have a lot more force in them than others. There are also a couple of ties out there with this theme, but very few indeed.
Blood is one of the most recognisable microscopic images out there. And yet, it doesn’t look like this at all when you look at blood through the microscope. This image is a cross between what we can see, what we know is there, and an idealized view of how blood should look. Almost like a cartoon of a familiar image, something that you will never mistake for the real thing, but that is able to unleash in you the same emotions than the real image does. This particular piece is lost – it was destroyed by mistake.
Apoptosis, the programmed suicide of a cell. This is one of these images that will never be seen through a microscope. It is created from what we know the process of apoptosis entails. I particularly enjoy drawing and painting leaky mitochondria, discolored and deflated. After doing so many hundreds if not thousands of rounded, turgent, bright mitochondria, it is almost a relief to do a sickly, pathetic one. The disintegration of the nucleus and the glorious blebbing of the cytoplasm are the protagonists here.
This image shows a spinach leaf, with curly mitochondria and textbook chloroplasts. It is a happy image. It somehow shows a bit of the sun that is being harvested to create energy and life. It has great spring colours and very good fun is somehow inserted into the playful internal membranes of the mitochondria. I have only ever made two, and they are now hanging in the two extremes of Europe, in happy places with darkish winters. This is an image that I would want to hang in a thinking place, it puts me in a calm and optimistic frame of mind.
This is the mother of all ova. My very first about-to-be released (in ovulation) ovum. This is a theme that I have re-visited repeatedly, always inside the ovarian tissue. The colours, and the shapes and the sizes vary considerably, and I see those changes as a way to express the very different destinies of the ova, the enormous potential for variation trapped in very similar cells. The many alternative futures are reflected in each of them: will it be fertilized? Will it be implanted or be expelled? Will a good sperm get to it in time? Will it be a girl? Will it become twins? Will it suffer teratogenesis because of a rare side effect of a wandering drug? And what will the sperm do to it?