Slice of the spinal cord that looks somewhat like butterfly wings. The "wings" have a thick white outline and various shades of blue with lighter and darker dots in the center.

CREATORS – Greg Dunn

In ALL, CREATORS by McKenzie Prillaman

Name: Greg Dunn

Which came first in your life, the science or the art? 

I don’t really think it’s possible to say, seeing as how both art and science share a primordial root of experimenting with the world. I have always been, and I’m guessing will always be, an experimentalist. The only real difference of artistic and scientific experimentation is whether you are using an external (science) or internal (art) metric to evaluate your work. I was definitely a kid who liked to experiment, and I think it’s easier and more accurate to say that I’m a pretty curious person all around. That led me through many random obsessions. Their unifying foundation is in my interest in the human experience as it relates to the mind.

“I have always been, and I’m guessing always will be, an experimentalist.”

Greg Dunn
Thin gold and black neurons stand vertically, looking like thin trees without leaves, among a cloudy blue and gray background.
Cortical Columns (2013) by Greg Dunn, 36″ x 48″, 21K, 18K, 12K gold, ink, dye, and metal powder on aluminized panel
Membrane made of blue and white columns sits at the bottom of the image. Within this membrane and sticking out of the top of it are thin brown coils, which are the receptor.
Transmembrane Receptor (2018) by Greg Dunn, 22K gold, ink, and dye on stainless steel
A neuron that looks like a branching tree on its side. The neuron itself is golden, branching out to purple, pink, and blue tips.
Action Potential (2017-18) by Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards, 22K gold microetching under multicoloured light

Which sciences relate to your art practice?

Neuroscience, of course, but others weigh in heavily as well, particularly as they apply to the methods I use. Microfabrication is a major input into my work, as I use photolithography to create tiny structures to manipulate light in specific ways. Optics is also inescapable as the reflective properties of my surfaces are of huge importance. As it relates to the microetchings in particular, math and computer science play a big role in helping to create the datasets necessary to create animations through reflected light. And finally, a basic understanding of materials science is a helpful building block to create new aesthetic methods.

What materials do you use to create your artworks?

I use a lot of gold and other precious metal leaf in my work. Gold is incredibly versatile, soft, can be hammered incredibly thin, and is a relevant player both aesthetically and from an engineering perspective. I also use materials drawn from photolithography, the art and science of using photosensitive materials, along with masks, light, and developing chemicals to etch microscopic features into surfaces. I also use a lot of ink, in particular in ways that allow me to allow the fluid dynamics to unravel into the way nature wants them to behave.

Gold circuit board at the top of the image with gold rays shining down below it onto thin gold and black neurons.
Deciphering Spikes (2017) by Greg Dunn, 22″ x 28″, 22K gold, ink, and dye on stainless steel
Classic hippocampus swirled shape in light teal and gold. Within the swirl are thinly branching gold and black neurons.
Hippocampus II (2011) by Greg Dunn, 36″ x 36″, enamel on composition gold leaf

Artwork/Exhibition you are most proud of:

Probably my piece Self Reflected, made in collaboration with my applied physicist buddy Dr. Brian Edwards. This was a multiyear project made with eight other student and scientist collaborators which was an effort to depict a slice of the brain with a degree of complexity never before seen. There is a lot to say about this project, so if you’re interested to read more, I’d recommend checking out my website.

Rainbow depiction of the cerebellum, which looks like a sliced head of cauliflower.
Cerebellar Folia, excerpt from Self Reflected, (2014-16) by Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards, 130″ x 96″, 22K gilded microetching under multicoloured light

Which scientists and/or artists inspire and/or have influenced you?

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is of course an inescapable influence. His research and drawings really defined the aesthetic appreciation of the brain, and his work has directly influenced my own pieces for sure.

I’m also a big fan of turn of the century art, particularly in the collision between western and eastern influences around that time. The eccentric Japanese painter Ito Jakuchu is a favorite of mind, along with Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Kay Nielsen, and Sakai Hoitsu. Some of my scientific heroes include Ed Boyden, Neri Oxman, Jim Eberwine, Christian Huygens, and Nikola Tesla.

Among a black background are two layers of light blue irregular ovals. Connecting these two layers are thin golden neurons that look like thin branching trees.
Neurogenesis II (2018) by Greg Dunn, 22K and 12K gold, ink, and dye on stainless steel
Thin, dark neurons that look like trees without leaves and visible roots. The "roots" sit in a light red-pink color that fades into a yellow-green towards the top of the "trees."
Neural Migration II (2018) by Greg Dunn, 21K gold, ink, and dye on stainless steel

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

In almost every case, you will learn more through making things than you will ever learn from reading a book. If you are trying to find your artistic or scientific voice, you are best off doing the experiments and testing things out. Figuring out the ways in which your interests and passions intersect will yield you your clearest and most well-defined voice.

“Figuring out the ways in which your interests and passions intersect will yield you your clearest and most well-defined voice.”

Greg Dunn
Neuron that looks like a gnarled, floating tree trunk and branches.
Spiny Stellate (2016) by Greg Dunn, ink on 21K gold
Person's head looking upward with circuit components above their head and thin neurons that look like wires extending from the face and neck.
Brain Machine Interface (2018-19) by Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards, 22K gilded microetching under multicoloured light
Landscape that looks like an aerial view of a river system. There are winding blue rivers among the golden land.
Neural Landscape in Blue and Gold (2018) by Greg Dunn, 22K gold, ink, and dye on stainless steel

For more by Greg Dunn, visit his website, Instagram, or Twitter.

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About the Author

McKenzie Prillaman

McKenzie is a fledgling science communicator working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She has a background in neuroscience, and was a research assistant at the University of Virginia and a postbaccalaureate fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After years of thinking she’d become a neuroscience researcher, she discovered her passion for sharing science with others. That finding, in combination with her lifelong dabbling in the arts, led her to write for Art the Science's blog. In her free time, she can be found volunteering with the Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes, trying new foods, and wandering around her home of Washington, D.C. Twitter: @meprillaman