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An interview with "neuro-painter" Greg Dunn
One of my favorite paintings is “Cortex in Metallic Pastels.” This painting is of the layered structure of cerebral cortex, a classic neuroscience image.
The first order of business is always to work out the basic blocking of the image by doing rough mockups in Photoshop. This is the foundation of the painting, and the forms must work in silhouette or the painting will never work as a finished image. Here I try to build in contrast in line quality, neural architecture, and complexity.
Once the basic layout is satisfactory, I move on to color, metal selection, and reflective design. These are secondary attributes that are also important to the finished painting, but are mere enhancements when compared to the blocking. Through deciding which types of neurons will be in gold and which in ink, enamel, or mica, I can create contrast and hopefully build in visual interest.
Once I’m happy with the rough Photoshop version of the painting, I will begin the actual painting itself. I prefer to separate the days of designing the painting and actually painting it, because this enables me to work without hesitation because I know the end result of what I’m going for beforehand. The painting then becomes a complex technical exercise, allowing me to focus on technique more directly and giving me space to really concentrate on the task at hand without the perpetual chatter and worry about the broad creative design in the back of my head.
This painting utilizes techniques in reflectivity modulation of gold leaf, transparent dye application, clearcoat sealing, and canvas preparations to enable the blowing techniques I previously mentioned on metal, metal powder application, etc. I won’t bore you with the details of a lot of this, but the type of painting I do is very gratifying to me because it draws heavily on my knowledge of chemistry and physics. My studio is simultaneously a place for creative brainstorming and lab experiments.
Image 1: "Crab Stomatagastric Ganglion," enamel on composition gold and copper, 18 x 24". Greg Dunn, 2009.
Image 2: "Developing Cerebral Cortex," gold, dye, and enamel on aluminized panel, 36" x 72". Greg Dunn, 2012.
Image 3: "Gold Cortex," enamel on composition gold leaf, 18" x 24". Greg Dunn, 2010.
Image 4: "Cortex in Metallic Pastels." Greg Dunn, 2012.