top of page

On the Theme of Apoptosis

Newdoll's journey into apoptosis began in the Czech Republic  during an artist residency at Project Hermit in Plasy.  Here, she made paintings in a 600 year old grainry using only natural light.  The project culminated in a performance along with her fellow artist, Belinda van Valkenburg.  There are other paintings which sprouted out of this experience later, as well.

Woman Contemplating the Increasing Speed of her Biological Clock.  33" x 44", oil on canvas, 1999. Private collection.

At the time of this painting, it was thought that a woman is born with all of her eggs, in the thousands, (oocytes) at birth, and  during her lifetime, she will ovulate only about 400 eggs. The rest of these eggs seemed to self-destruct via the mechanism of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. What causes these eggs to die? If they died at a constant rate until menopause, a woman would be losing two eggs a minute. It seems, however, that we lose fewer eggs during the early part of our life, and this egg loss gets faster and faster as a woman ages. The oocyte in the background is like a waning moon. Egg loss has reached the tenth hour of her biological clock.


Inspired in part by the paper "Oocyte Apoptosis: Like Sand through an Hourglass", Yutaka Morita and Jonathan Tilly, Developmental Biology 213, 1-17, 1999. Figure originally in "Prolongation of ovarian lifespan..." by Perez et. al, Nature Genetics. vol21 no. 2, 1999. Special thanks to Chris Gralapp. 

The Tragedy of Iphigenia.Oil painting, approx. 24" x 36", 1997. Private collection.

Done during a residency at Project Hermit, Plasy, Czech Republic.  Cells sacrifice for the good of the community, but they must first pass a test to see if it is warranted.  Mistakes are made.


FAS Sisters Receiving a Death Signal.  25" x 33", oil on panel, 2000. Private collection.

Three FAS identical sister proteins protrude above the cell surface.  They are being organized by a death signal in the form of three ravens, which represent the homotrimeric molecule CD95L.  Once the external trimeric FAS molecule has bound to its ligand, CD95L, the pathways of apoptosis (cellular suicide) are triggered inside the cell.


Inspired in part by the paper Death Receptors: Signaling and modulation, by Avi Ashkenazi and Vishva M. Dixit, Science, Vol. 281, 1305-1308, 1998, and the paper "BCL-2 family members and the mitochondria in apoptosis", Anton Gross and James McDonnell, Stanley Korsmeyer, Genes and Development, 13:1899-911,1999.

Greek Tragedy as viewed through Apoptosis, 4' x 5', oil on canvas, 1997. Collection of the artist.

Apoptosis is one mechanism of cell death.  In the study of cell death, cells commit murder, suicide, incur accidental death, and sacrifice themselves for the good of the community of cells. This sounded so much like a Greek tragedy to me, I could not help juxtaposing the two. This painting portrays a key character in the origins of Greek Tragedy , Dionysis, and some characters that are related to him, Hades, Persephone, and Demeter, whom all have cyclic lives. Four stages in the cycle of a cell are stamped on the four characters. They are seen through a screen of apoptotic cells (cells undergoing cell death).

The Apoptosis Queen.  33"x44", oil on canvas, 2000. $2,000 plus tax and shipping. 

The Apoptosis queen holds a piece of protein in her left hand called BH3, which is most likely necessary in all pro-apoptotic proteins involved in the organelle destruction pathway of apoptosis. Her hair reflects the shape of the apoptotic protein BID, which is part of this group of proteins.


Inspired in part by the papers "BCL-2 family members and the mitochondria in apoptosis", Aton Gross, James McDonnell, Stanley Korsmeyer, Genes and Development, 13:1899-911, 1999, and by "Analysis of Apoptosis by Laser Scanning Cytometry, Bedner E; Li X; Gorczyca W; Melamed MR; Darzynkiewicz Z, Cytometry 35:1810195, 1999.

BAX Twins, 3' x 4', oil on canvas, 1998. Collection of the artist.

BAX is a central cell death regulator protein.


Blood Moon and the Cycle of Life, mixed media, 23"x30", 2013.  Private collection. 

This painting was originally a special commission for Dr. Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz. The premise for this painting resides in the paradox of being both dead and alive at the same time. In the tree, one can find “Schrodinger’s cat”, in reference to the analogy used in quantum physics where a cat can be both dead and alive in the quantum world. The large red fruits in the tree are calabash fruits, modeled after cells which have been studied both while dead a
nd alive. The large, full fruits are like healthy living cells and the multi-lobed fruits are more like apoptotic cells, or cells that died via a preprogrammed internal mechanism for cell suicide*. The woman sitting in the moon is Blood Moon, from an ancient Mayan legend found in the Popul Vuh**. She holds out her hand to accept a fruit from the tree. The central fruit with a skull imbedded in it is the head of One Hunahpu. He has been beheaded and his head stuck in a tree by the lords of the underworld after going there to accept their challenge to a ball game. Instead of giving her one of the fruits, he spits in her hand, saying,"It is just a sign I have given you, my saliva, my spittle. This, my head, has nothing on it--just bone, nothing of meat. It’s just the same with the head of a great lord: it’s just the flesh that makes his face look good. And when he dies, people get frightened by his bones. After that, his son is like his saliva, his spittle, in his being, whether it be the son of a lord or the son of a craftsman, an orator. The father does not disappear, but goes on being fulfilled. Neither dimmed nor destroyed is the face of a lord, a warrior, craftsman, orator. Rather, he will leave his daughters and sons. So it is that I have done likewise through you. Now go up there on the face of the earth; you will not die.”


Inspired by the paper "The Schrodinger's Cat Quandary in Cell Biology: Integration of Live Cell Functional Assays with Measurements of Fixed Cells in analysis of Apoptosis", by Xun Li and Zbigniew Darzynkiewicz, Experimental Cell Research 249, 404-412, 1999.


Translation of the "Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life", by Dennis Tedlock, Simon & Schuster Trade, 1995, ISBN: 0684818450

bottom of page