Art and the City

Dana Simmons, Ph.D.

Brain trees? Or are they dancing celebrities in a Mardi Gras parade? Ruffled rumba revelers, brightly colored and ready to party. Or maybe blood vessel networks? Coral structures? Leaf veins? Yes. They can be anything your mind wants them to be, because that is what they are – cells from a human brain. Your brain is watching itself – looking at its mirror image…almost. 

These are Purkinje cells—neurons from the cerebellum.  Biologist Dana Simmons is fascinated with these cells because they have many more branches – dendrites – than other neurons.  They follow a pattern, called the “Purkinje Pattern,” but there are endless variations. They line up with great precision, not seen anywhere else in the nervous system. So why?

Dana Simmons—the artist—is fascinated with their natural beauty and their inherent power to control our physical movement and maybe a lot more. She digitally reproduces and infuses the images into our minds by colorizing and arranging them in ever more imaginable configurations. She can provoke emotions with color variations and even shift our thought patterns and opinions with subtle insinuations and inferences.

There are billions of these Purkinje babies floating around in your head right now.  But no two are alike! Like snowflakes. They collect and exchange information with other cells, from day one through your whole life. Every connection makes them a little bit different. Like us.

Dana Simmons has a Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Chicago, where she has been researching Autism spectrum disorder. She wants to understand its connection to the cerebellum. 

She would like to know where inspiration comes from. She is also searching for the answer to the essential question we all have to discover for ourselves. Why? If we get that, maybe we can figure ourselves out.

You can see more of her work online at:

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art  

Purkinje cell-like patterns are seen throughout nature.  It’s a pattern so ubiquitous you begin to see it everywhere, in both big and tiny things. Yet each cell is different, just as every tree is different. You see the same patterns in almost every living and growing form, even coral structures. It can be seen in bacterial colonies. And you see it in non-biological things like lightning. Keep looking and you will see it everywhere. 

Me, I see the cells as humans, with a head and arms and legs – like dancers in those old calypso movies. You can intuit the sound of the music and the voices.  And why not see them as humans? It is like my brain looking at itself.  

It’s a revelation to me of how everything is tied together, wondrously—teetering on the edge of impossible.  The patterns may or not be universal, but they are certainly global. They tie us together as humans. They bind us to the physical earth—to the miracle of creation.

That Dana Simmons (see Artist Profile) sees them as art is as natural as you would view any landscape or figure painting, because that is what they are: an art form that reaches for the supernatural. It is the spiritual that is somehow inherent in our minds. 

No, all art may not be sacred, but recognizing pictures of the living real world, including people, drawn on a flat surface is a miracle. They are somehow captured among the billions of neurons we call our brain. From movement and balance, to thought, to the flow of ideas, to the recognition of beauty…to the understanding of the world, and who we are. 

Those are the essential questions…and answers if we really look and listen. And inspiration? Maybe it doesn’t come from the brain. Maybe it is given to the mind if requested in the right way.

At the Galleries

Studio Galley
2108 R Street NW, June 18

Studio Gallery brings you five very accomplished artists:

Deborah Addison Coburn: For No Good Reason “No concept, no cause, just painting. And fun.

Joanne Levine: Earthwork: Her paintings celebrate the “earthworks” created by farmers and others who work the land. Nature provides their raw materials and the result is a transformation of nature into wonderful works of art. 

Wayne Paige: Be careful what you wish for. His “…artwork as not only beyond the fog, but also behind the curtain of technology.” This is a comment on digital technology’s transformation of our psychic landscape. They need to be seen.

Harriet Lesser:  Silicone Hills and Valleys. Playing with form and depth, Harriet Lesser presents silicone sculptures mimicking the shapes of hills and valleys.

Theirry Guillemin: Bench after the Rain. Her work is an invitation to pause – take a time out from all that is frantic in the world. It works.

Touchstone Gallery
901 New York Ave NW
Touchstone presents two parallel shows:

Makda Kibour To July 3.  Makda Kibour spent a lot of time studying indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley of Ethiopia, “people unaffected by the outside world who rely solely on nature to fulfill their wants and needs. Makda found her artistic voice there also. She utilizes abstract painting as a visual language to shape and form color and line. 

Heather Lynn: Superloved, June 2 – 26. This is an “exploration of emotions and societal constructs around happiness.”

American Painting Fine Art
“The Washington, D.C. Scene”
June 11 – Sept. 24,
Recep: June 11, 5-8

This begins the 15th annual exhibition of works that “capture the current vitality, diversity, beauty, history and cultural highlights of our Nation’s Capital.” The show includes most of the gallery’s regulars, many of whom I have profiled in this column. This year, a prize of $100 is offered for the painting that “Most Captures the Washington, D.C. Scene.”

A Capitol Hill artist and writer, Jim can be reached at