Featured Artist: Elizabeth Jameson

Hometown: Rochester, NY

Current town: Lafayette, CA

Job description: Artist


Elizabeth Jameson is a pioneer of artwork that deals with the convergence of medical technology, neuroscience and art. Diagnosed in 1991 with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), she found herself confronting stark MRI images of her brain that seemed equally frightening and mesmerizing. In tackling this contradiction, she felt a strong urge to reinterpret these images. Her work uses state-of-the-art neuroimaging technologies to explore the wonder, mystery and beauty of all brains, including those with a disease.

Calligraphy, image of the artist’s MRI of the Neo-Cortex

Select links:

Artist Website:


The Beautiful Brain – Youtube Movie: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5iqiT_U08c)

The Beautiful Brain interview: (http://thebeautifulbrain.com/2010/07/gallery-interview-elizabeth-jameson/)

Multiple Sclerosis Online Community: Elizabeth Jameson (http://thebeautifulbrain.com/2010/07/gallery-interview-elizabeth-jameson/)

Elizabeth Jameson: Fine Art of the Brain and Body-Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeth-Jameson-Fine-Art-of-the-Brain-and-Body/107076022673770)

How MS Took One Woman from Public Interest Lawyer to Artist,

Describe your work.

My work interprets brain scans, predominantly my own, which I have accumulated over the years as a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patient. I consider magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) one of the primary symbols of MS, because MRIs are how physicians and scientists track the progress of the disease. Medical imaging renders the brain transparent and provides an intimate view of the brain’s interior structure. However, the images show a brain that is naked and without the context of human emotions and feelings. I see my job as an artist as providing a contrast to stark computer images while exploring personal reflections within the self-portrait. Reclaiming my MRIs through printmaking, color, and the elements of design distracts from unsightliness of my brain lesions and allows a view of the brain that combines beauty and complexity. Composition and vibrant color provide a mood that changes the discourse with myself and my body.

What themes and concepts does your work generally revolve around?

Access to these state-of-the-art technologies allows me to creatively display parts of the brain in ways rarely before seen outside the scientific community. My intent is to create images that show the splendor of the brain, with all its powers to change, adapt, and confound. This work expands the conventional definition of portraiture by questioning what it means to be human, and by challenging viewers to see themselves as more than simply their likeness.

Elizabeth Jameson Etching
Valentine, image of the artist’s MRI showing the brain stem, parietal lobe, and lateral ventricles

What materials do you work with?

My current body of work began with silk paintings, loose, highly saturated paintings using dyes, based on MRIs of my brain. Later, I learned solar plate etching, which allowed me to directly use my MRIs as a means of image-making. Solar plate etching uses a plate that has been coated with a light-sensitive material. Using a printout of one of my MRIs on acetate, the plate is exposed to light, and then developed in water. It can then be inked and run through a roller press just like a traditionally made etching.

Most recently, my practice has grown to incorporating digital manipulation of my imagery. I have been exploring creating images directly in Photoshop, as well as printing out such my images and then further modifying them by drawing and painting back into the inkjet print. These manipulated inkjet prints are then sometimes scanned back in and then altered again in Photoshop, developing and working the image until I get it right.

My work has also come full circle, in regards to fabric. I’m now exploring digitally printing images of hand-pulled prints of my brain on fabric.

What are you currently working on?

In 2012, I was invited to do an installation for the imaging center lobby of the University of California, Berkeley’s Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Services, the university’s new neuroscience building. The piece was completed and installed in the fall of 2012, and I was recently invited to complete another installation.

This new installation has allowed me to return to my love of fabric, and this time I am designing a series of fabric panels with images of MRI slices of the brain printed in warm colors. The panels will hang in the corridor leading up to the actual MRI room at the center.

Carousel, axial MRIs of the artist’s brain

What’s your art background / when did you begin really focusing on art?

My artistic education began while attending California College of Arts from 2006-2009.

Do you have any exhibits coming up/ past exhibits you’d like to mention?

One of my proudest moments as an artist was in 2011, when my work was permanently installed at Harvard University’s Center for Brain Science.

Since the beginning of 2012, my work has become part of the permanent art collections of the Department of Health Services at the University of Texas at El Paso, and the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Services at the University of California, Berkeley. I also had a solo exhibition at Biocomunicat, in Barcelona, Spain, and was part of the exhibition, “Seeing Ourselves,” at the Muse Center for Photography and the Moving Image, in New York, NY, curated by Koan Jeff Baysa.

Currently, my work is part of the exhibition, “Vital Signs,” at the New York Academy of Science also in New York City. This March, while not an exhibit per se, I’m excited to have my work featured in “Neurology,” the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

In May 2013, my work is being permanently displayed in the Pelletier Laboratory at Yale University, and I will have a solo exhibition at the University of California, San Francisco’s Sandler Neuroscience Center, in the Memory and Aging Center, called ‘Testament to the Mind and Brain. In June, I will be part of the exhibit, ‘Neuro-Cartologies,’ part of the Human Brain Mapping Conference. For that exhibition, I will be presenting seven images based on MRI slices of the brain in a sequence. Finally, in November, ‘Testament to the Mind and Brain,’ will travel to the Ormond Museum in Ormond Beach, Florida.

Jameson and work at Harvard_small
Elizabeth Jameson’s permanent installation at Harvard University’s Center for Mind and Brain

Is any of your work political?

My work is political in that it is developing a new visual language of illness intended to empower patients. I also hope to do my ‘Narratives of Modern Warfare” project, discussed below, which I feel will be a very political piece.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

The narrative of illness in society is that of acute, not chronic illness. The stories told about acute illness generally have an arc, they are not a continual, lifelong experience. Those of us with a chronic illness are confined by our bodies, and deal with feelings of invisibility, inadequacy, and physical disconnection; the notion that our bodies belong more to our doctors than ourselves. As an artist with a disease of the brain, my work allows others with brain diseases to see themselves as more than their illness, and to repossess their bodies by providing an alternate view of their anatomy. Through my work, those with disabilities are able to see their bodies not as sources of embarrassment, pain, or suffering; instead, they are able to perceive the exquisite color and intricate dimensionality of their physical existence.

By transforming my brain scans, I reclaim ownership of my brain, and no longer feels like a victim or patient: I am a person. I no longer feels that my identity is defined by a disease.

Kaliedoscope, digital collage of hand-pulled prints, showing axial, coronal, and saggital MRI views of the artist’s brain

What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?

My MS has developed into the progressive stage, and I am now a partial quadriplegic. I can only do my work now with the help of my assistant and colleague, Michelle Wilson. As an artist, I now consider myself more of a choreographer, someone who directs others. And yet, the more my disease progresses, the more ambitious I become.

What is your dream project?

I actually have two dream projects. The first is to do room-sized, site-specific installations using fabric, neuro-technology and the brain. The purpose of projects like these will be to create a reverent space for contemplating the beauty and architecture of the brain.

My second dream project I’ve been calling “Narratives of Modern Warfare.” I’d like to do a three-part body of work that focuses on veterans of the Iraq-Afghanistan wars who suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI). I will tell the stories of modern warfare as seen through the damage to its participants. The work will honor veterans by creating artwork that celebrates the beauty and mystery of the brain while simultaneously illuminating the social relevance and tragedy of brain damage. My artwork, based on CT scans and MRIs, would compliment written narratives and photographic essays of soldiers and civilians, providing context and history to individuals’ stories. The purpose of this second project will be to reveal the carnage of the brain resulting from modern warfare.

Stacked, X-ray of the artist’s spine

Are you involved with any organizations?

I am a member of the California Society of Printmakers, the Arts and Healing Network, and the Society for Arts and Healthcare.

Favorite artists and why/ people in your field whom you most admire:

One artist I admire is Wosene Worke Kosrof, (https://wosene.com) who is a Ethiopian-born contemporary artist. He works with Amharic script and symbols, created highly textured patterns. Another artist I admire is my good friend Cheryl Bowlan, (http://www.cherylbowlan.com) who is a photographer and multimedia artist. She has more ideas and energy than anyone I know. Another printmaker is my colleague and friend Sherry Smith Bell, (http://www.sherrysmithbell.com/HOME.html), who introduced me to solar-etching, and encouraged me to pursue my mission in art. Two other artists I admire are Laura Ferguson, (http://www.lauraferguson.net/) who’s work illustrating the human body is absolutely breathtaking. Finally, I admire Michelle Wilson, (http://michellewilsonprojects.com/).

What was the last exhibit you attended?

The last art event I visited was the Codex International Book Art Fair in Richmond, CA (http://www.codexfoundation.org/2013/2013.html). There were artists from all over the world making books – I had no idea that the field was so extensive. It has made me consider future possibilities with book art in my own work.

Transitions and Turnarounds, MRIs of the artist’s brain

Your website(s):

Artist Website:


The Beautiful Brain – Youtube Movie: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5iqiT_U08c)

The Beautiful Brain interview: (http://thebeautifulbrain.com/2010/07/gallery-interview-elizabeth-jameson/)

Multiple Sclerosis Online Community: Elizabeth Jameson (http://thebeautifulbrain.com/2010/07/gallery-interview-elizabeth-jameson/)

Elizabeth Jameson: Fine Art of the Brain and Body-Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeth-Jameson-Fine-Art-of-the-Brain-and-Body/107076022673770)

Celebration, solarplate etching of an angiogram

Image Descriptions:


Solar plate etching based on an X-ray of the artist’s spine.


Solar plate etching based on an MRI of the artist’s brain, showing the Coronal view of the brain stem, parietal lobe, and lateral ventricles.


Digital print on fabric based on a solar plate etching of an MRI of the artist’s brain, showing the Coronal view of the Neo-Cortex. On permanent display at the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Services, University of California, Berkeley.


Digital print on fabric, based on a solar plate etching of an MRI of the artist’s brain, showing the Axial view of the Neo-Cortex. On permanent display at the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Services, University of California, Berkeley.

Transitions and Turnarounds

Digital print with hand-coloring of a solar plate etching of the artist’s brain, based on MRIs showing Saggital views of the artist’s brain.


Digital collage of hand-pulled prints, based on MRIs of the artist’s brain showing Coronal, Saggital, and Axial views.


Digital collage of hand

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