Where art meets science: HMRI 2021 Art Series revealed

Oct 14 2021

Newcastle-based visual artist Brittany Ferns unveiled a piece inspired by the 2020 HMRI Award for Research Excellence recipient Distinguished Laureate Professor Nick Talley AC

Titled ‘Conversations,’ the piece is based upon her meeting with Professor Talley to learn about his expertise in neuro-gastroenterology and his recent discovery of the bowel disease Duodenal Eosinophilia. 

Brittany Ferns is an Australian visual artist based in Newcastle, NSW. Ms Ferns spent ten years working as a graphic and textile designer in Sydney and Los Angeles before returning to Australia, where she now creates portraits and landscapes in her unique style.

Ms Ferns said that interviewing Professor Talley and learning more about his work was an exciting experience, and she loved the subject matter challenge. 

"This got me thinking in a different way," Ms Ferns said.

"I went with the ‘good vs bad’ gut theme for the painting...I wanted to show how the gut affects the whole body." 

Art writer, Joey Hespe describes the painting in this way - "Two figures sit opposite each other, as if they are in conversation, highlighting Professor Talley's evidence-based research on the continuous exchange of information between the gut wall, bacteria and the nerves. Encapsulating the concept of 'good vs bad' gut health, one side of the artwork is tonally darker than the other; represented by two figures who sit facing each other. 

The figure on the left-hand side is represented as 'good', while the figure on the right is represented of the 'bad'. Fern’s palette directly references the colours that are seen upon investigation of the digestive system. The darker browns and yellows are symbolic of an unhealthy gut, whilst the pinks reference a healthier gut...Looming behind the two more prominent figures is the impression of Professor Nick Talley."

Professor Talley said the painting was fabulous and thought the representation of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut being intertwined and connected through images of people was excellent.  

"The gut changes, you can move from one state to another. You can move from healthy to unhealthy and then come back again," Professor Talley said.

"I like the people theme. This is what this is all about. It's about people's health, it's about helping people and making their lives better."

The HMRI Art Series is an annual collaboration between HMRI's Researcher of the Year and an artist who strives to represent their research through the medium of art. The Art Series is supported by Newcastle philanthropists and long-time HMRI donors Chris and Shirley Piggott.


Distinguished Laureate Professor Nick Talley AC - HMRI 2020 Award for Research Excellence

University of Newcastle Distinguished Laureate Professor Talley, a clinical neuro-gastroenterologist with a particular interest in inflammation and infection, is one of the world's leading and most influential clinician-researchers in the field. He has more than 1,000 published peer-reviewed research papers.

One of the chief investigators and Director of the NHMRC-funded Centre for Research Excellence in Digestive Health, his research covers inflammation in the gut, the role of the gut micro-organisms and the gut-brain axis. Professor Talley is a senior staff specialist at John Hunter Hospital and the current editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia.