Maggie Gannon is a fourth-year student at the Carver College of Medicine who is working on a series of histology-inspired paintings for her Humanities Distinction Project in collaboration with Dr. Nathen Swailes. The Appendix‘s Ananya Munjal had an opportunity to interview her.
Q: When and how did you get into painting?
My mom is an artist so art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In college I had a hard time deciding between pursuing a career in art or science, so as a medical student I wanted to do a project to tie those two parts of my life together. I would show my mom histology slides of what we were learning in class because I found them visually interesting and she thought it would be cool if I translated those images into abstract paintings.
Q: What does your creative process look like?
Dr. Swailes is my 50/50 partner in this— it’s his eye that sees the composition of the histology images and then sends them to me. The process starts with him finding a slide that is visually interesting and compositionally strong, which is very important. I kind of have the easy part which is moving paint on the canvas. I usually start with modeling paste which is a water-based medium that can be used to thicken the paint or be used as a base to create texture on the surface. I want people to feel like my paintings are like a cell on a slide, more than two-dimensional. I prefer oil paint over acrylic— it is more expressive and you can mix and modify it throughout the process since it stays wet for days.
Q: How do you think your art reflects in your daily life?
My mom is a trained artist and my dad is an engineer. In my house there has always been a dichotomy of the creative and the black-and-white. As scientists and physicians we dedicate our whole lives to learning the hard truths that constitute the hard truths constituting the framework of medicine, but I was surprised to find once I got to the wards how much more messy and abstract medicine was than what we had spent our lives learning the first few years of medical school. I wanted to do a project where I could take a concrete image and “abstract it” to portray that idea.
Q: What are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on another histology painting of basal cell carcinoma in collaboration with Dr. Swailes. The difficult part for me is finding a jumping off point for painting and composition, so he does the part by sending me compositionally cool images.
Q: Who or what is your inspiration to create?
My mom is an obvious answer to this, she is an insanely creative person and there wasn’t a blank wall in my house growing up. She is an amazing artist and is always exploring new techniques and making art all the time. My “what” is more abstract for me, a lot of times I use my artwork to decompress. I have a little art studio in my apartment where I just have a canvas up all the time and if I’m not working on something concrete I like to just push paint around and follow my brush where it goes and create based on what I’m feeling.
Q: What art do you like to consume?
I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and VSCO, I love really graphic 3D and 2D pieces. It amazes me how creative people are. Some of my artist recommendations to look out for on instagram: @gannonpeggy @chadknight @bodeburnout @bouboudesign_
Q: What would you like people to know about your art?
I try to capture the “mood” of the disease or pathology or cell that I am painting. For the painting of metastatic adenocarcinoma in bone that I did in collaboration with Dr. Swailes I darkened it a little bit compared to the picture to make it a bit angrier— I like to capture the feeling of what I am painting within the picture itself.
Q: How has creating your art changed you as a person?
Art has always been an outlet for me, we all have things we do outside of the hospital to ground us and this is mine. I feel that having an outlet like this makes me a better doctor and a better person to be around in the hospital. Painting is a very mindful thing to do and so this is something I can do where I have to focus on what I’m doing without being distracted and there are very few things like that for me. I think it slows me down and we all need that, and I feel very fortunate to do this outside of work because it keeps me sane.
About the Creator:
Artist: Maggie Gannon is an M4 and aspires to be a urologist. She spends her time outside of the hospital training for ultramarathons and walking her dog, Leo. Her favorite medium is oil paint because they blend beautifully (they smell the best too!).
Interviewer: Ananya Munjal is an M2 at the Carver College of Medicine. She studied human physiology and writing as an undergraduate and enjoys exploring the vast intersections between literature and the sciences. In her free time Ananya enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with the Appendix team. Her favorite medium to create is writing prose poetry.