Sluka’s new art exhibit showcases cells in a new light

Kathleen Sluka, PT, PhD, professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science in the Carver College of Medicine, presents her first art exhibit, Cells of Life, sponsored by Project Art. The exhibit is made up of 11 of her original oil paintings showcasing the miniscule processes of cells through unique arrays color. Her work is on display in Gallery 1 (Elevator F, Level 8) through Monday, Dec. 3.

What materials do you use in your art?

I mostly use acrylic paints on canvas. All of my works in the exhibit are acrylic paintings. Although recently, I have been experimenting with collage techniques and working with modeling paste. It is somewhere in the sculpture realm.

What was the process for making the pieces in your exhibit?

Each piece is different. It varies from several full days to months. Some cell systems are more complex and are more detailed than others. I show anatomical structures at a microscopic level in order to illustrate the science behind diseases and the body. The brain and neurons are common themes, but also musculoskeletal systems like connective tissue and cartilage.

When starting my sketches, I don’t look at a picture and copy it, but instead, I work from my memory, partially because I know what they look like, so I combine that with research I do on the science behind the picture. Sometimes, I just want to represent a particular cell type, and sometimes I want to say something about a disease process.

I color them depending on what fits. For example, I have a painting representing how physical activity affects obesity, how it can be treated, and what happens to fat and immune cells with physical activity. Since I study pain, I do a lot of paintings on pain and use a lot of reds and oranges to represent the cells that transmit it. One piece in the show is a cross section of the peripheral nerve and shows axons that carry pain signals—in reds and oranges—and those that carry touch signals—in blues and greens.

What led you to creating this type of art?

I’ve been painting since I was a young child, but my parents encouraged me not to pursue it as my career. Although, about ten years ago, after my kids moved out, I picked it up again, since I had more time. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I began creating “science art,” concentrating on biology of cells and disease.

How did you decide to use cells as your muse?

It made logical sense for me to paint cells. I have a PhD in anatomy and am a neuroscientist and a physical therapist. I work with some form of cells everyday, so it was easy to mix my passion for science and art. Plus, it’s fun to learn about areas I’m not as familiar with or didn’t know about, and work that into my art.

What led you to organize an exhibit with Project Art?

My work has been featured on the cover of eight scientific journals. However, I’ve never had my work displayed in a formal exhibit before. I wanted to share the beauty of body and disease with people, and project art and the hospital seemed like a perfect place for that. Project Art has been so great to work with, and I think it’s wonderful that there is a space for local artists to display their art.


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