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Thoughts & Notes

On the subjects I paint

Microbe, Virus, Mutation & Life in Continuum

Thinking & Exploring Life Through the Making of Art

Journal Entry: Art & Microscope : Life & Viral Infection

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Microbe, Virus, Mutation, Life … in Continuum

Great Spangled Fritillary. Series: Butterflies. Pointillist painting of butterfly specimen. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation. As such it is a symbol for me personally of how life can change after becoming infected with HIV.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” – Isak Dinesen.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Art & Awareness

Exploring Microbe, Virus, Mutation & Life

Our ecosystem is filled with fascinating lifeforms. They assume many shapes and sizes. Some are clearly visible. Our lives are enriched by their presence and their diversity, is admirable. We need many, if not all of these lifeforms, to survive.

Some viruses cause illness, but we safely coexist with others. Researchers believe that as much as ‘half’ of all the biological matter in our bodies is not actually ‘human’. I am less a single organism and instead, a complex colony.

Cells 3

There is a diverse and rich colony of microorganisms inhabiting any healthy human. Scientists call this the microbiome.

We are also hosts to a remarkable diversity of viruses. Scientists call this the virome. The human virome is, in part, comprised of bacteriophages (phages) that infect bacteria and viruses that infect other cellular microorganisms.


The number of bacterial cells associated with the human body alone is thought to be roughly equivalent to the total number of human cells from which we are comprised. This microcosm is dazzling in its complexity

Cell: Red with Yellow

Hidden in Plain Sight

An endless number of lifeforms exist beneath our awareness. Partially obscured from view, we see them with the aid of technical assistance in the form of powerful equipment. Technology has enabled us to see what the unaided eye cannot.

More than seeing, we need to know to look for these organisms. We cannot assume any of them to be obvious. In fact, we may be more aware of the actions of these organisms than the many shapes they assume.

In some circumstances, it is the actions of an organism that make us aware of its presence. This may be particularly true, if they impact our health. The diminutive size of an organism doesn’t diminish its power.

Clone: Yellow

Thoughts exist within my mind, in abundance. There is no lack of thinking and very little quiet time. Sometimes I wish there was. It is noisey in there. It is in the articulation of these thoughts with which I, at times, struggle. I think of my journal as a place I put disparate ideas into writing.

There are instances of clarity I find surprising. Ones that happen in the light of creative endeavors. This Journal Entry: Art & Microscope is a method to grapple with complexities that often feel larger than my life and any single work of art I might make.

Here then, is a recording of facts. Here are subjects I find fascinating and llike to think about. Honestly, some of these subjects also keep me worried. There are nights I find to be long, and very dark. This is especially true, if the thoughts racing about in mind involve climate change, or environmental degradation. In the face of such monumental problems it is easy to waiver and feel helpless.

You can think of this post as a forum for notes – to self. The written word allows me to examine how my life experiences play out across the landscape that is my art. Writing my thoughts down makes arriving at answers easier.


Transformations, in the form of life changing messages are often delivered loud and clear. They can be devastating. Particularly, when your health is at issue. You may be aware of someone who has received unsettling news from a medical professional.

Poseidon Butterfly

A Message was Received

The Test Came Back Positive

This is leading you somewhere. You might wonder, what was I doing when the message I received was delivered? I wonder, have you received one like mine, microscopically? My delivery contained a tightly wound strand of RNA.

No signature was required at point of delivery. The message was cryptic and encoded, in both fact and form. There were, and are many transformative illuminations to unpack. A lot of luggage as the saying goes. But, loud and clear, I heard ‘transform your life or die’ and I did, just that.

Pointillism encourages a molecular examining of life and landscape. As a result, I have an increased desire to intimately understand the systems binding my life within our ecosystem.

Pointillism forces me to look closely at the subjects that I choose to paint. Dot by dot, they are taken apart, analyzed and reassembled.

Clone: Red

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus

The human body provides a rich environment for microbes. In practice, many of these microbes have devised ways to thrive peacefully inside our bodies. In other words, they do so without making us sick.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), however, is not one of these more friendly organisms. This particular virus is the cause, if not the culprit, when people infected with HIV get sick.

HIV lurks in the background always at work. It weakens the immune system and uses it to reproduce. There is a long list of opportunistic infections that can become serious problems. Many of these infectious agents are held at bay by a healthy immune system.


Reveals Our Interconnected Natures

The biosphere is a global ecological system. Essentially, it integrates all living beings and their relationships. This includes interactions with the elements of the lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. Many lifeforms, including microbes, bacteria and virus, thrive alongside us, within this same system.

“A zoonosis is an animal infection transmissible to humans. There are more such diseases than you might expect. AIDS is one. Influenza is a whole category of others. Pondering them as a group tends to reaffirm the old Darwinian truth (the darkest of truths, well known and persistently forgotten) that humanity is a kind of animal, inextricably connected with other animals: in origin and descent, in sickness and in health.”

David Quammen: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

A Wall of Sleep

Poetically, death has been called a wall of sleep. Above all I think, we recognize death as that wall that separates life from what might come after. The virus seems to me, to be a brick in this wall. In ways good and bad, microbial forms of life add complexity to the biosphere. In a word, viruses also add danger.

I am forging a path along this wall with art, metaphor and analogy. This path leads, I hope and believe, to a place of understanding. It has led to a place of compromise with an infection.

Cell: Green with Red

Death dealing microbial life has been discovered, in unexpected places. In one case, a spore-forming bacterium that causes Anthrax was released from dead, unfrozen, reindeer carcasses in the artic tundra. It is as if death itself, came back from beyond the wall of sleep.

As we continue to warm the planet, it might do us well to remember some of these facts. It is impossible to predict what else might be out there frozen, and patiently waiting.

Journal Entry: Art & Microscope. The Code #1. Series: Virus and Mutation.  Pointillist abstract painting. The virus has been coded into our genes through evolutionary adaptation.

Life sends us messages. These messages arrive in symbol and as cypher. They show up as arrows that point towards truth. However powerful we imagine ourselves; we are vulnerable. We live bound as all life, constrained by a code we did not script.

The Code 1

Genetic Transformation

Survival Coded in Gene

Viral fragments exist within us. These fragments are encoded in our genome and date back millions of years. We know a great deal more than we did decades ago, but much remains undiscovered.


Science believe more than half of the human genome has undergone some change in response to viral collision. In likelihood, all cellular life on Earth hosts at least a single RNA virus.

Evolving 2

I am no scientist, nor an expert on this subject. At heart, I am an artist living in a state of awe with the world. As such, I make no attempt to answers questions where I lack expertize in this Journal Entry: Art & Microscope. To do that, is beyond my skillset. As much as fact, here are impressions gained from my search.

Basically, microbes evolve like other species. Evolution selects for those individuals most effective at producing babies and at helping them spread to suitable places to live. For a microbe, spread might be defined mathematically as the number of new victims infected per original patient. That number depends on how long each victim remains capable of infecting new victims, and how efficiently the microbe is transferred from one victim to another.”

Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Virus & Microbe

Intimate Detail

Microbes and virus are capricious biological entities. They can be elastic in nature. They are an example of adaptive change in the evolutionary process. Their mutability is observable, and is evident, in their intricate structures and survival tactics.

It doesn’t seem surprising, viruses and microbial life are widespread. Whether we hold them in the forefront of our thoughts or not, they naturally occur in the oceans, in soil, forests, air, and in our cities. Our bodies are not their only playground, they infect animals, fungi, plants, insects and bacteria.

There is beauty in the complexity and intricate structures of microbial lifeforms. I can understand the virologist’s interest, in spite of the fear, trauma and havoc they can wreck.

Cell: Blue with Green

I think there is probably much microbial lifeforms can teach us about life on Earth. Undeniably, I now have a very real and direct experience living with a virus. Although I would prefer this fact to be otherwise, I still find these many lifeforms fascinating.

In appreciating the beauty inherent in microbial forms of life, I have discovered a coping method. This doesn’t mean I have to like living with a viral infection. However, at this point there is little I can do to change the fact.

What Has Come Before …

Has & Will Come Again

History has proven to be, quite lethal. Most days, I think of the virus and of microbes in primarily abstract terms. Yes, I have a daily regiment of pills I must take. And blood tests and doctor’s visits have become regular occurences. But through the marvel of modern medicine, I live.

I need not look further than life and nature for inspiration as an artist. I can see these lifeforms appearing in my work primarily as abstract paintings. A lot of sifting through personal history has happened painting some of these.


Inspired by the virus, the artwork and paintings I make are not horrifying. Certainly, they could be. My work could be a regular ‘day of the dead’ in intensity. They are, instead, vibrant and colorful. True, they are telling of a dark shadow.

Evolving 5

My desire is to present these lifeforms as I have learned to live with them. Gracefully, and one day at a time. I have survived the suffering and guilt associated with becoming HIV-positive. Now, I am intent on living and doing so without passing on the virus. Art and life are balanced in a mindful intention.

“The importance of lethal microbes in human history is well-illustrated by Europeans’ conquest and depopulation of the New World. Far more Native Americans died in bed from Eurasian germs than on the battlefield from European guns and swords. These germs undermined Indian resistance by killing most Indians and their leaders and by sapping the survivors’ morale…… we forget that North America also supported populous Indian societies in the most logical place, the Mississippi Valley, which contains some of our best farmland.”

– Jared Diamond
Journal Entry: Art & Microscope. Blue Irregularities. Series: Virus and Mutation. Abstract pointillist painting exploring the form of the virus.

Through reframing, I take a more in-depth look at the virus. I see it through multiple lenses and from different viewpoints. Without being consumed by my personal infection.

Blue Irregularities

Under the Microscope

Cultural Infections

The virus and microbe are evident in many forms. When I think of them from an artist’s perspective these forms are incredibly inspiring. In writing, I search for analogy and metaphor in processing the experience of having a virus.

The human condition is easier to comprehend when thoughts are taken out of my head and put on paper. I don’t expect any essay to make life easier; understanding and ease are not the same things.

gallery-symbols & cyphers
Om: Royal Purple

The manner in which cultures take root and spread across the globe echoes the spread of the virus. More often than not, these two things have happened in tandem. Historical studies reveal how we have all played the role of victim and super-spreader.

Shadow places can be revealed by the cool light of reason. So is hypocrisy. Some groups have suffered worse than others. European descendants have done well in the broad sweep of an all-inclusive perspective. Ancient tribes of the Americas did not do so well. In fact, they suffered horribly.

A Nationalist Plague?

I often think of those who are faced with the challenge of unwanted globalization in the harsh light of gentrification. Life and culture are infectious processes and art and media each play roles.  

“Postmodern thinkers speak about discourses rather than memes as the building blocks of culture. Yet they too see cultures as propagating themselves with little regard for the benefit of humankind. For example, postmodernist thinkers describe Nationalism as a deadly plaque that spread throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, causing wars, oppression, hate and genocide. The moment people in one country were infected with it, those in neighboring countries were also likely to catch the virus. The Nationalist virus presented itself as being beneficial for humans, yet it has been beneficial mainly for itself.”

Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Transmission is the Mission

Reproduction & Propaganda

Both the virus and culture use our needs to be transmitted. The virus must contend with how to best transmit between hosts. And how to conquer host cells. The virus must overcome an invaded body’s defensive resources.

Once the body’s immune system is conquered, a virus must be able to leave its host in order to continue in its lifecycle. Transmission is the mission of the virus. It looks very much like culture and political propaganda.

Journal Entry: Art & Microscope. Spiraling Forms. Series: Virus and Mutation. Abstract pointillist painting exploring the form of the virus.

Infection by virus often occurs without outward sign or disease. Once infecting a cell, a virus may become temperate, or non-replicating and latent, incorporated into the host’s chromosomes.

Spiraling Forms

A virus can destroy a host cell in reproduction. Basically, there are several ways microbial forms of life can propagate. Some microbial forms float in the air. Others lie in wait on surfaces, for a passing hand.

The easiest method for a virus to transmit is to simply wait for the next host to come along. There are viruses that make use of a host to find new victims. The mosquito has been especially effective in enabling viruses to spread.

Tactics of Survival

Changing Our Ways of Behavior

Some viruses are transmitted passively. They can move at birth, from mother to baby. Other viruses are instead, aggressive. There are viruses capable of modifying the anatomy or habits of a host to aid in transmission. Rabies is a great example.


Some organisms are energetic in their strategies. A virus that causes coughing or sneezing would serve as an example.

Cells 2

Some viral tactics are so successful, other lifeforms act in mimicry. To illustrate, a tale of a fungus that infects ants is one of my favorites.

After infection, the ant will at some point climb up the stem of a plant. Once in place, it will lock its jaws into the plant and die. The fungus will then grow and drop spores on any other ants passing below. A passing ant is assured since ants follow chemical scent trails.

Throughout infection, the fungi have taken complete control of both the ant’s muscles and behavior. The control is as complete as the dog forced to bite due to rabies.

A Short List

And No Easy Answers

Viral diseases can be exceedingly difficult to treat. The virus can become an integrated part of the cell it infects. To treat by use of any chemical can also result in the inhibition of the proper functioning of the host cell.

Smallpox, Chickenpox, Measles; Rubella, Mumps, Shingles, the common cold, Influenza, Polio, Yellow Fever, Rabies, AIDS, Ebola – COVID. It is believed the virus may be implicated in some leukemia’s and cancers. The list of viral names on record is long. People can be attached to them. Added as addendum, like ‘Typhoid Mary‘. We are familiar with many of them. We some at bay. New ones will be named. To list them all would be impossible in this Journal Entry: Art & Microscope.

To live or die we often must make complicated decisions. What physical damage can I endure in the hope of survival? How much can a political body endure in the onslaught of toxic cancers?

Cell: Blue with Yellow

“Numbers can be an important aspect of understanding infectious disease. Take measles. At first glance, it might seem non-mathematical. It’s caused by a paramyxovirus and shows itself as a respiratory infection, usually accompanied by a rash. It comes and it goes. But epidemiologists have recognized that, with measles virus, as with other pathogens, there’s a critical minimum size of the host population, below which it can’t persist indefinitely as an endemic, circulating infection. This is known as the Critical Community Size (CCS), an important parameter in disease dynamics.”

– David Quammen

Under the Microscope

Tomorrow’s Virus Today

The virus is capable of mutation, re-assortment and recombination. Those responsible for causing the flu are an excellent example. More than a single strain of flu can infect human and animal.


Within a host, the flu virus is capable of swapping genetic material. Influenza is extremely malleable in this regard. This can, therefore, result in a new, potentially fatal virus unrecognizable to existing any antibodies.

Spiraling Forms

In 2020, Covid was not in the news. Large parts of the world are grappling with this virus and health organizations are calling for additional booster shots. What is obvious, is that Covid will be with us for a very long time.

A virus does not need to be organic. We have witnessed what was once the inconceivable. Now, less science fiction than fact, we live with technological viruses that have become common place.

Cellular Systems 1

Non-organic viruses, well beyond medical control or response, are infecting computers and other systems. These inorganic viruses have been weaponized. Much in the same way governments have sought to weaponize naturally occuring pathogens. The virus has become something other what we once knew and feared. We kneel before a new dawn.


Inspiring Thoughts & Observations

“There is no such thing as perfection, only the relentless, thirsty, matching of an organism to its environment. That is the engine that drives evolution.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee

The field of genetic programming is today one of the most interesting spots in the computer science world. It tries to emulate the methods of genetic evolution. Many programmers dream of creating a program that could learn and evolve completely independently of its creator…. a prototype for such a program already exists – it’s called a computer virus. As it spreads through the Internet, the virus replicates itself millions upon millions of times, all while being chased by predatory antivirus programs and competing with other viruses for a place in cyberspace. One day when the virus replicates itself a mistake occurs – a computerized mutation.

Perhaps the mutation occurs because the human engineer programmed the virus to make occasional random replication mistakes. Perhaps the mutation was due to random error. If by chance, the modified virus is better at evading antivirus programs without losing its ability to invade other computers, it will spread through cyberspace. If so, the mutants will survive and reproduce. As time goes by, cyberspace will be full of new viruses that nobody engineered, and that undergo non-organic evolution.”

–  Yuval Noah Harari

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