Patterns of Significance

These paintings arise from an investigation of a part of the biological world so tiny that even a conventional microscope cannot be used to reveal its working. Sophisticated techniques and computers are used to conjure up images and ideas of this world instead. These 'inner visions' are the subject for my paintings, and refer to the amazing molecules which enable and regulate life, known as proteins.
When I first became interested in proteins, I chose a small molecule called insulin to look at. Insulin comprises just two short chains of small molecules. The protein folding process strives to turn these linear chains of molecules into the right 3D shape for that protein. It does so mainly by hiding the hydrophobic (water hating) parts of the chains in the centre of the molecule. This simple sounding process makes the most stable structure and the only one that is functionally correct. Paintings 5,19,20,21 relate to the insulin molecule.
Some of the paintings were inspired by molecules of the immune system called MHC1. These molecules are heroes of the struggle we have against viruses and diseases. MHC1 alerts the body to a viral attack by holding up a sliver of viral protein at the surface of an infected cell. This alien presence is spotted by roving cells of our immune system called T-cells, and the infected cell marked out by the MHC is killed. Paintings 3,17,18,28,29 and 30 are related to the MHC1 molecule.
An amazing molecule called hsp60 inspired the circle paintings in the exhibition. This large molecule is classed as one of the so called molecular chaperones. Within its barrel shaped centre hsp60 isolates and guides proteins which were failing to fold up correctly. Unless proteins are exactly the shape they were intended to be, the processes within the body for which they were intended cannot happen properly. Paintings 1,8,23,24,25,33 and 38 are related to the hsp60 molecule.
The idea that proteins spontaneously ‘self-form’, folding up into complex structures excites my interest greatly. This process involves hugely long, essentially 2-dimensional strings of molecules collapsing in on themselves in such a way as to become an exactly shaped 3-dimensional structure. One of the main driving forces in the folding process is the need for all the molecules in the protein which are not ‘happy’ being surrounded by water to be hidden away at the centre of the protein. Many of my paintings relate in some way to the folding story, for example paintings 7–14,22,36,37.
Living cells need functioning proteins in the right quantity at exactly the right moment. So proteins need to be easy to make and to destroy, and still be stable enough in their working environment to carry out their vital jobs. Nature has designed an amazing balancing act that does just that, by keeping a reservoir of part-folded proteins that are stable enough to exist until required, but can be easily transformed into their fully functional state. Paintings 15,16,34,35,39,40 are inspired by that idea.
The specification of protein structure and function is, as the quotation from Peter Atkins in the Foyer suggests, the central function of inheritance. This idea, of proteins being the direct realization of our genetic ‘information’, fascinates me - particularly the way the flow (the river) of information travels through time via the medium of our bodies. Paintings 2,4,6,26,27,31,32 are related to these ideas.