Painter Katherine Sherwood: How a Cerebral Hemorrhage Altered My Art

Vesalius's Pump, 2006, 36" x 36", Mixed media on canvas.

Painter and UC Berkeley professor of art Katherine Sherwood has kindly granted permission for us to use one of her works (“Vesalius’s Pump”) as the cover image for our next conference on culture, mind, and brain.

Professor Sherwood, who suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1997, describes how it affected her art practice in a recent essay published online in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. After receiving a Guggenheim fellowship for 2005–2006, Sherwood decided to focus on

incorporating brain imagery of western neuroanatomy from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century. I became fascinated by the traditional role of the artist to pictorially represent what the anatomist discovers. In today’s medical imaging technology, the role of the artist is eliminated. The digital process ostensibly avoids intervention, the human hand, and the craftsmanship of printmakers. What happens when the artist comes at the end of this process instead of in the middle, when the emphasis is on interpretation rather than observation or imitation?

She goes on to describe two pieces (“Pump, Drug, Computer” and “Vesalius’s Pump”):
.

In this body of work I shifted my attention to the nervous system. An example is the painting Pump, Drug, Computer (Figure 4). Enlarged digital copies on rice paper of Vesalius’ nervous system are tiled onto the canvas looking at each other. The seal Foras is employed which supposedly makes one happy, wealthy, and wise. It also represents my two fathers. The title of the painting refers to the fact that I had just had a baclofen pump that has a computer within it implanted within my stomach. I laughed with my digital media colleagues that they may be the most adept at using a computer but I am the only one among us that has a computer inside of me. In Vesalius’s Pump (Figure 5) I combine images of his brains with my carotid artery while evoking the seal Sallos which brings love to all that ask.

Katherine Sherwood is a professor in the Department of Art Practice, UC Berkeley, and artist-in-residence at the Helen Wills Institute of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley.


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About Constance Cummings

Constance A. Cummings, Ph.D., is Project Director of the non-profit The Foundation for Psychocultural Research, which supports and advances interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the intersection of brain, mind, culture, and mental health and illness. She is co-editor (with Carol Worthman, Paul Plotsky, and Dan Schechter) of Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). She received her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from New York University.

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