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Nov. 07, 2012

Your Brain on... Art

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
Click on icon in upper right corner of slideshow to enlarge images. 
Red Hot Chili Peppers fans may recognize the handiwork of artist (and former scientist) Kelsey Brookes. The band enlisted Brookes to create the cover art for nine new 7-inch vinyl records (yes, albums) that the band is releasing this year and next. (The image below is from one of the albums; the nine panels fit together to make one image.) 
 
{"input":{"width":490,"photo":"album","row":"4497","table":"DOCUMENT"}}
 
Brookes has an undergraduate degree in biology. After a few years working as a scientist (including a fellowship at the CDC studying arboviruses, and a stint at the disease diagnostics company Gen-Probe) Brookes says he decided to "jump ship and paint."
 
Brookes says he has "never really overtly referenced or used my understanding of science in my art, until this show."  He painted the works in Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States using structural diagrams of serotonin and four psychoactive drugs that affect the serotonin neurotransmitter system (including LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT or dimethyltryptamine.)
 
{"input":{"width":490,"photo":"before","row":"4497","table":"DOCUMENT"}}
 
Brookes interprets the molecular structures by representing the atoms as different colors in his paintings. For example, in Serotonin above, the carbon atoms in the structure at right have a blue center in the painting; hydrogen atoms have a yellow center. (Click on the slideshow above to get a closer look.)
 
As to the question of whether there's a correlation between how the paintings look, and how one might feel if one's serotonin neurotransmitter system were "stimulated" by these psychoactive compounds, Brookes answers "Absolutely."  
 
"Normally the way it works is the human (usually college-aged) ingests the compound and looks out onto the world but in this case the viewer is turned back onto the molecules themselves," Brookes adds. 
 
The show opens November 10, 2012 at Quint Contemporary Art in San Diego.
About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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