The Maps of Disease

x portrait copyRed Gate Gallery:  “The Maps of Disease”


The human brain; intricate, complex and fascinating. Its very nature and imagery has become the centre of attention of David Jane’s artwork. Jane’s images do not deal with any brain; his focal point is his very own. Jane calls his work self-portraiture, albeit of a unique, and at first disturbing, kind.
In 1989 David Jane contracted herpes simplex encephalitis. The illness severely damaged his left temporal lobe, affecting his everyday memory, naming and reading ability.  His right temporal lobe was spared and consequently, his artistic skills remained unaffected. “A virus that robbed David Jane of his language and memory left him struggling to understand what had happened to him”

Before his illness, David had established a critical reputation as an artist exploring ideas of biography and abstraction after his illness, his work took a new direction, he looked at his brain scans in an attempt to understand what had happened to him.  The images fascinated him, and he began to incorporate them into his own work, using them as a starting point to explore his feelings about the damage to his brain.  Over the past few years he has continually stretched both his ideas and his materials to produce images of increasing depth and intricacy; the only checks to his development being those imposed by limited resources.

Since his illness Jane’s work has explored and represented a pictorially unique rendition of the subjective experience of encephalitis by putting his work into a scientific context. Over the past decade the artist has used enlargements of his brain scans either incorporating them directly into his work or by using various materials such as wax, pigment, oil and charcoal to create analogical images of his partly diseased brain by burning ‘blind silences’ into the wax surface. During the past four years David’s focus shifted away from painting towards a more computerised approach to his work. He would digitally work on either his brain scans or would magnify viruses to such a degree that their ‘terrible’ beauty would become apparent in a totally different context.
“We can meld science and art together,” says Jane.  “And we’ll do that not to obscure what’s going on, or prettify it, but to make it clear.  I want to open the doors of understanding into the scientific interpretation and artistic vision of brain scan images, so that people can see them as things of beauty as well as knowledge.”

Jane’s work far exceeds these stated ambitions.  “When you look at David Jane’s work.” Says Denna Jones, curator at the London-based Wellcome Centre for Medical Science, “your reactions aren’t anything to do with the disease.  It’s not even to do with that interest in body-mapping you see so much of these days.  It’s simply a continuation of self-portraiture – part of a tradition five centuries old.”  If the 18th-century painter William Hogarth had had access to the technology Jane’s uses, “he’d probably have done the same thing,” says Denna Jones.”

David Jane’s most recent work ‘closes the circle’ in a literal and analogical sense. After his digital exploration he went back to the drawing board in order to exploit and fuse all aspects of his acquired techniques and experience as an accomplished artist. The new works mostly medium to small size show exceptional artistic maturity incorporating drawing, pigmented wax and parts of his brain scans. Intricate detail and multiple semi opaque layers of wax propel his work to the highest standard of subtlety and true artistic craftsmanship. Staying faithful to the initial concept of creating images of his affected brain, Jane uses the circle to show destroyed and silent areas of his brain by integrating ‘missing geometrical section’ within the remaining rich texture of the circle. Materials used within his paintings all have a specific connotation: wax relating to malleable texture of brain matter, strips of plaster cast material bring us back to a hospital environment, the drawings remind of the spidery web of nerve synapses. With all of these components fused into beautifully executed images the end products are reminiscent of finely detailed maps; maps of his disease. David Jane is unique in his kind for having achieved the seamless marriage between art and science bringing this new concept to soaring heights of artistic accomplishment.

Yara Tschallene.

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