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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."
Dunn says that was his "ah-hah moment," when it occured to him that he could combine his two interests—neuroscience and art—into one pursuit.
To create a painting such as Cortex in Metallic Pastels, shown above, Dunn starts with a piece of stainless steel sheeting or metal-leafed acrylic panel. The surface is scratched, so light bounces off of it in a polarized way, Dunn says. "This allows you to control how light will be reflected." Dunn then paints that scratched surface with a series of transparent dyes, finishing the piece with protective coatings.
Since graduating in 2011, Dunn has supported himself as an artist, but he says he's still very much a scientist. "These are complicated paintings, with many layers. I do a full scale mock up in Photoshop and set up a protocol to follow," Dunn says. "I'm not doing 'science art' because I am painting neurons. I'm approaching art scientifically, using my knowledge of physics and chemisty."
To see more of Dunn's work, check out his website
and the slideshow above.