Anatomical art has the power to reach far beyond the pages of a medical textbook…connecting our innermost selves with our bodies through art.
Through my research, I am increasingly becoming drawn to the human anatomy. As my condition is invisible, I am finding it increasingly frustrating to come to terms with my diagnosis when there is no visual evidence for my symptoms. I cannot show an x-ray and say “Here, here’s my fibromyalgia.” For people living with invisible illness, there is a huge need to feel as though you have to explain yourself and what you are going through to justify some of the actions you may make. An example being, regularly having to explain to people why you are sitting in a disabled seat on the bus, even though you have every right to. My relationship with my body is an increasingly conflicted one, and I am finding myself looking towards its mechanics for answers, or a way I can interpret it visually to explain my experiences.
Vanessa Ruiz is an anatomical artist and curates a site that combines anatomy and art, Street Anatomy. In her Ted talk above, she explains how medical illustration is breaking out into the art world and not just seen in textbooks or doctor’s offices. She promotes artists using the anatomy in a unique way, bringing concepts of grief and mourning.
Anatomy is a visual science, and artists during the Renaissance were some of the first to realise this. Illustrations were used as an advert to promote scientist’s discoveries, which had the visuals caught in popular culture as well as the discoveries made. This resulted in some now seemingly unusual imagery, with the figures appearing live in the dissections, with layers of tissue peeled back to reveal their insides. They were also not afraid to show the figures lifeless, dead on a table with their skin removed. They also turned limbs into still lives, every element delicately placed.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the balance between art and science was realised with the introduction of medical illustrators. The subject in these illustrations were neither dead or alive with no specific identity other than gender, with the artistic influence removed, therefore the focus lying in the anatomy. The medical illustration we see in textbooks today is often only seen there. Unless you are studying it, there are few places for the general public to have access to it. Ruiz argues, and I agree, that medical illustration is still art. She explains that there is nothing that brings so much joy or disgust than the human anatomy. I understand these emotions in relation to anatomy and I think this is largely down to the fact that they are images of us, of everyone on this planet, and we are all the same internally generally. It is a difficult idea to grasp, but it is something that we can all relate to I suppose. We also generally don’t really like to think about ourselves in that way, preferring to take the view of individuality and personality.
Street Anatomy was set up by Ruiz in 2007, and collects artist’s work that draws inspiration from human anatomy, taking back the artistic influences that were lost in the 20th century and bringing human anatomy to a wider audience, particularly with street art, that is accessible to everyone.
Contemporary artist Fernando Vicente takes 19th century illustrations of the anatomy and places them within a female figure, giving anatomy more feminity that was previous lacking in medical illustration.
Federico Cabajal’s commission of a skeletal structure after an ankle injury uses the same medical mechanics that were used to repair the real ankle. This is where medical mechanics become art. It got me thinking about the supports used for invisible illnesses. They manifest themselves physically and aids are used to help make the pain more bearable. I suffer a lot with pain in my hands, wrists and fingers and have often used supports to help with the pain. These supports are often very plain, but if there was a design that could better explain what is happening internally, whether that’s in an illustrative way, this could help non-sufferers better understand the experience. This links to an idea that my peer Wendy had about creating textile patterns that could then be made into pillow covers for sufferers of invisible illnesses, linking the subject with the audience. This is something I definitely want to explore further in my sketchbook.
Michael Reedy combines serious figural drawings with elements of humour, in the way this woman’s skin condition (evident from the red blotches on her face) emotionally manifests itself in the visualisation in the background, as these comical yet horrifying creatures, in shades of red like tissue. When I came across this, I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed, as this is what I am doing in some of my work. But this is a condition that is physical and visible to others, not an invisible one. This brings up a whole debate about the originality and plagiarism of others work, something I don’t want to get into too deeply but I am not copying what Reedy creates. There are similarities but I am sure there are similarities to other artists also. It is interesting though how he has externalised these creatures instead of keeping them within her, could this be because it is an illness of the exterior rather than an internal one like mine?
Jason Freeny uses popular culture characters and visually creates how he imagines their anatomy to look. What I find really interesting about this work is not necessarily the aesthetics and concept but the reaction his audience has to these pieces. Because of their playful nature and references to characters beloved by children, there isn’t a sense of fear towards this work, but intrigue and wanting to know more. In terms of my own work, maybe the idea isn’t to repulse but to invite.
Danny Quirk uses strong lighting, differing from typical anatomical drawings, which creates a more 3D effect in regards to the anatomy, which then translates well as body painting art. What I enjoy most about Quirk’s work is the drama and action of self dissection. It’s a presentation of one’s self. To me, it almost reads as an emotional breakthrough, being able to “open up” to another; almost like “outing” yourself. In terms of my project, there are issues surrounding being open about invisible illness. It is difficult to explain to someone what we are experiencing and I can understand why it is difficult to believe, which creates a stigma and therefore tends to lead to sufferers going into the closet. Personally, I have always been quite open about my condition mainly because it is easier for me.
Ruiz and her site Street Anatomy will be a constant source of inspiration; a filtered artist research source that I can constantly refer back to. This has been a great find and has made me question a number of my approaches to my work, expanding on questions I am already asking and bringing out new ones. After doing more research, I feel like I need to go back to the circle word exercise in order to rethink and evaluate what exactly my question is, as now I have expanded on research, I feel I may be at risk at going off track.
Cabajal, F. (2017) Bone-if-i’d [online] Available at: http://www.fc-artwork.com/09-bone-if-id.html (Accessed 12 November 2017)
Freeny, J. (2017) Plumber Sculpt Dissection Print [online] Available at: https://jasonfreeny.com/collections/sculpture-prints/products/plumber-sculpt-dissection-print (Accessed 12 November 2017)
Reedy, M. (2017) Expulsion [online] Available at: http://www.michaelreedy.gallery/galleries/recent_works/expulsion-e.190 (Accessed 12 November 2017)
Ruiz, V. (2017) About [online] Available at: http://streetanatomy.com/about/ (Accessed 12 November 2017
Ruiz, V. (2015) The spellbinding art of anatomy [online] Available at: https://www.ted.com/speakers/vanessa_ruiz (Accessed 4 November 2017)
Ruiz, V. (2017) Marie Antoinette by Fernando Vicente [online] Available at: http://store.streetanatomy.com/product/marie-antoinette-by-fernando-vicente (Accessed 12 November 2017)