Show at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center


John Jacobsen
Saturday, October 20, 2018

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Figure 1: Body-Powered Transhumeral Prosthesis, oil on canvas, 24“x12”

I am pleased to announce:

Of the Flesh but not the World...

A show of nine works in a small gallery space at the Feinberg School of Medicine at the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC).

The works include four paintings made from life at NUPOC over the course of the last few months. There are also paintings and drawings done from life at the Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Art.


Figure 2: Plagiocephaly Helmet Casts, oil on panel, 12“ x 9”

Location and Hours

Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC)
680 North Lake Shore Drive, Suite 1100
Chicago, IL 60611

Dates: November 2 through the end of 2018.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 AM - 4:30 PM

A quick Google will show a number of parking options nearby. The building is about four blocks from Navy Pier; the closest El stop is Chicago Ave., on the Red Line.


Figure 3: Portrait of J., oil on panel, 11.5“ x5.5”

Artist’s Statement

Of the flesh but not the world? How peculiar. How can that be? It sounds like maths, only more practical somehow.” – Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

For the past six months I have had the privilege of painting from life roughly once per week at the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC). NUPOC carries out research and training in the design, manufacture, and application of orthotic and prosthetic devices. Aside from representing a fascinating synthesis of engineering and medicine, it is a visually rich environment hosting hundreds of artifacts, all of which relate in some way to the human form.

These artifacts appeal to both the engineer and the artist in me. The anatomical models, common in both medical schools and art studios, are not only helpful objects of study (a figurative artist ought to know how the body is put together), but beautiful objects of contemplation in their own right. In addition, NUPOC’s collection of historical and current prostheses and orthoses, ranging from the crude to the intricate, is visually fascinating… any of these objects could be the cornerstone of a striking still life painting.

In addition to the four paintings done at NUPOC, there are figurative paintings and drawings based on live models. They represent a subset of many studies carried out over the past few years at the Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Arts, a century-old Chicago institution where one can find people drawing and painting from life nearly every day of the year. Working from life and studying anatomy are centuries-old strategies for turning paint into convincing illusions - to create bodies that are “of the flesh, but not the world.”

From the standpoint of engineering, I find the devices at NUPOC intriguing for their mix of high- and low-tech. 3D printers and advanced polymers contrast with mechanical joints, hooks, levers and cables. Automated mass-production of some components exists in conjunction with highly customized fittings of others, to adapt to every individual’s unique morphology and requirements. High-tech is not necessarily better tech: advanced prostheses with multiple digits controlled by nerve induction may be less appropriate than a more straightforward, affordable device that can be maintained by its wearer “in the field.”

More generally, the artifacts represent a literal meeting of the human organism, with its animal origins, and the engineered world. Limbs lost, or never present, can be augmented in capability, at times far past their “baseline” functionality. What could be more human than to build devices to mold or extend the function of our bodies challenged by trauma, age, genetics, or other vicissitudes? What are the limits of our flesh, assisted or no? These are interesting questions for a figurative artist to ponder.

Many thanks to the staff at NUPOC for their assistance and hospitality.


Figure 4: NUPOC Leg Model (“Legcorché”), oil on linen, 7“x28”

For news and updates

Say hi on email, or check me on Instagram (eigenhombre).

Earlier post Color Notations art

Later post A Daily Journal in Org Mode writing code emacs

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