About the Painting Hippocampus II


Hippocampus II

By Greg Dunn · Sept 20, 2010

This is a painting of a coronal section of the rodent hippocampus, an area of the brain implicated in learning and memory, rendered in enamel and gold leaf. It utilizes techniques reminiscent of Asian art to stylize the hippocampus to somewhere between a scientific illustration and fine art. Pyramidal neurons in the CA1 region are depicted in black, their dendrites penetrating into the gold stratum radiatum below where they receive input from axons originating in CA3 (bottom left). Neurons of the dentate gyrus are rendered in gold, sending cream colored axons to synapse in CA3.

Original Creation Date 09/20/2010

Suggested Credit

What is the purpose or intended use of the entry?

This painting was created for the neuroscience department at UCSD to beautify the space while maintaining the scientific atmosphere of the building. It was intended to bridge the gap between scientific illustration and fine art.
For what audience was the entry created?
This painting was created primarily for a scientific audience, though it is also aesthetically designed to stimulate the curiosity of non-scientists. Many scientists are drawn to research through their appreciation of beauty, though the sometimes monotonous scientific labors can distract the researcher from this source of inspiration. My hope is that my paintings can re-ignite those feelings of beauty and awe, and can serve as an invigorating inspiration to both the researcher and layperson.


Explain how your entry fulfills each criterion:


Visual Impact
By straddling the divisions of photomicrography, scientific illustration, and Asian art, this image provides many different points of reference for the viewer. Using enamel and metal leaf, the painting illustrates the anatomy of the hippocampus, from the dark brown CA1/3 pyramidal cells whose dendrites feather into stratum radiatum, to the golden neurons embedded in the dentate gyrus. The depiction is instantly recognizable to the neuroscientist, yet offers additional visual interest for both scientists and non-scientists. The form and color scheme contribute to elicit the imagery of a crashing wave, and along with the branch or lightning bolt-like forms of the neural processes, serve to emphasize that beauty pervades all orders of magnitude in conserved forms.


Effective Communication
This painting communicates the harmony between neuroscientific and Asian aesthetic principles. Scientifically, the painting provides a straightforward depiction of the neural architecture of the hippocampus, and can be described in the same way that a photomicrograph could. Aesthetically, the painting demonstrates the traits of simplicity, spontaneity of line, and use of metal leaf that are common to Asian art. Together, the scientific and aesthetic elements combine in a seamless way, as the forms of neurons are a natural extension of the principles of Asian sumi-e brush painting. This painting provides the potential for a simultaneous expansion in the repertoire of Asian art as well as an interesting new way to effectively depict neuroscientific subject matters.


To my knowledge, neuroscientific subjects have never before been depicted in the context of Asian art. This image declares for the first time that neurons are as much a worthy subject matter for depiction via sumi-e as are the more traditional forms of the medium- trees, grasses, flowers, and animals. Furthermore, this image walks a line between an anatomically correct and artistically idealized depiction of the hippocampus, a balance seldom struck in scientific illustration. It brings neuroscientific and anatomical imagery into the realm of fine art.



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