When Art Meets Cancer Science

December 9, 2020
Jessica Skarzynski

Street artist James Cochran gives CURE® an inside look at his newest project: a piece of art he created by applying 50,000 small dots of paint to a canvas using a lab pipette. It will be displayed in the Institute of Cancer Research’s Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery as a symbol of the creativity and commitment of the scientists who work every day to eradicate cancer.

When renowned street artist James Cochran was asked by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London to create a painting that combines art and cancer, he was uncertain of how to approach a project of this scale.

Now, after more than 250 hours of work applying 50,000 small dots of paint to a canvas more than four feet in width and diameter, using the same type of lab pipette used in cancer research, “Cell Defense” is now complete, and will hang permanently in the ICR’s Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery as a symbol of the creativity and commitment of the scientists who work every day to eradicate cancer.

Cochran, also known as jimmy c, recently spoke with CURE® about how he worked with scientists at the institute to create the image of liver cancer cells being attacked by “good” cells from a patient’s immune system, and why the fusion of art and science interests him so much.

Transcription:

CURE: So, let's start things off just by talking a bit about this painting that you've created, comprised of 50,000 dots, using a lab pipette. You worked in partnership with the Institute of Cancer Research on this project. Can you tell me just a little bit about the project in general?

Cochran: Straight away, I liked the idea, because it was so unique, basically, and it was a challenge for me to try to create a painting using a teat pipette from a laboratory. And yeah, it was interesting, I liked the whole concept of the fusion of art and science.

For me, it was also the artistic aspect of just approaching an image in a whole new way. I think they proposed the idea of some images to me which came from biopsies. The one I ended up doing was a liver biopsy, showing cancerous cells under a microscope undergoing, or actually being attacked by good cells from the immune system.

But what was going on in the image biologically aside, I straight away, I was drawn by the beauty of these biopsies, they almost look like stained glass windows. I ended up meeting the computer scientists who render these images, and they do kind of add color into these images to sort of, you know, separate and define the different cells and so forth. But, my first thought was, it was aesthetically a very beautiful image.

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