ART can delve deep into the human soul and, as Brittany Ferns has demonstrated, the body.
The Newcastle artist was commissioned to create a work to honour the Hunter Medical Research Institute's 2020 Researcher of the Year, Professor Nick Talley, and his recent breakthrough work into a gastrointestinal condition, duodenal eosinophilia.
"I'd never even heard of that before," said Ms Ferns. "Usually I paint portraits."
"Well, they're nice pink cells," said Professor Talley, just before he saw the painting for the first time. "They look beautiful in the small intestine."
Professor Talley, an internationally renowned researcher and specialist with a title that sounds like a combination of art and science in itself, neurogastroenterologist, said duodenal eosinophilia affected one in 10 Australians.
"This is a syndrome where people can't eat properly," he explained. "They eat a meal and they feel uncomfortable ... and I mean really uncomfortable. This is really quite distressing. It can affect their work, affect their life."
The artist and the medical researcher had met for a chat, so Ms Ferns could learn about her painting subject.
"We had a discussion, and there were words like 'inflammation' and 'diarrhoea'," recalled Ms Ferns, who then read up on the condition and the links between the gut and the brain.
The painting took about six months to create. She titled it Conversation, representing "both the conversation between Nick and I, and the conversation between the brain and the gut".
The painting was publicly unveiled via an online gathering on Wednesday night at an HMRI researcher showcase event.
This melding of medical science and art at HMRI began in 2005. It is known as the HMRI Art Series. Each year, an artist is commissioned to illustrate or give shape to the work of the recipient of the HMRI Award for Research Excellence.
Usually, the work is auctioned at HMRI's annual ball, but COVID-19 has put paid to that for the past couple of years.
However, HMRI is planning an exhibition of Fern's work, along with a collection of other commissioned and donated paintings, and the art will be for sale to raise funds for the institute.
Professor Talley got to see the painting before its online appearance. As the drape fell, Conversation left the researcher momentarily speechless.
"Wow!," he exclaimed.
"Fabulous. Love it!"
Britt Ferns explained the figure on the left, depicted in fleshier pinks, represented the healthy gut, while on the right, personified in brown and yellowy tones, was the bad gut. In the middle, presiding over both figures, was Professor Talley's silhouette.
The artist said she wanted "to show how the gut really affects the entire body and affects an entire person and their whole life".
"The bodies are intertwined, and I wanted to make it look like the gut as well in some way," she said.
"I like the humanisation of gut health," responded Professor Talley.
"The colouring's magnificent. I like the people theme. That's what this is all about.
"We look after people. It's about people's health, it's about making their health better, making people's lives better, and I think you've captured that sense of it here."
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