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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Enlarged Amygdala

My new abstract, oil painting is titled, 'Enlarged Amygdala' and is a response to cognitive overwhelm, exporing the intersection of internal and external experience.

I have been working on a series of abstract artworks which explore the intersection between internal and external experience, from the perspective of a neurodiverse introvert who suffers from mental health illness. I wanted to represent the experience of cognitive overwhelm which often leads me to withdraw from social situations due to sustained exposure to sensory stimuli. I wanted to represent the feeling of synapses firing in my mind like an internal firework display, which leads me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and in need of solitary time and rest.

The first painting I created in 2020, exploring this theme was a small 30 x 20cm abstract oil painting which I titled Amygdala. It was a very busy painting with splatters darting across the canvas in a chaotic manner, which makes it difficult to focus the eye on any particular element. I titled the painting Amygdala, because this is the part of the brain which processes emotions, and becomes enlarged in people who have autism or suffer from anxiety, depression. This artwork was appropriately bought by a psychologist.

I revisited the idea in 2013, after joining an art collective called 'Dare to Care' who make work around the mental health of artists. As we have some upcoming exhibitions planned I wanted to create some new, larger work based on the original painting 'Amygdala'. The next artwork I created was slightly larger, 50 x 40cm in oil on canvas. I started with a fleshy, pink base as I felt the pink I used in 'Amygdala' was not "human" enough. Once the first layer of gestural marks had dried, I added another layer of brush strokes in orange, green and pink irridescent paint which has this eerie metalic shimmer and in my mind, visually represented sound waves or vibrations. Finally, I added the splatters in a range of colours. I titled this painting, 'Neurotransmitters'. Overall, I think it is a stronger piece than Amygdala, but I regretted adding the irridescent brush marks as I felt this detracted from the overall fleshyness of the painting.

I decided to do a smaller "Test piece" before I painted on a bigger canvas. This oil painting, is 30 x 30cm. I started with a fleshy pink base, adding the paint in a thicker layer to create deeper brushstrokes. Once this had dried, I didn't add any more brushstrokes, but went simply to the splatters. Mixing pale pink, white and a range of bright colours, which I through at the canvas with as much energy as possible. I was thrilled with the outcome, the painting oozed with a gelatinous, gooeyness that appeared like a cross between explosion in a candy factory and a brain bursting into life. To me, this painting, which I titled 'Synapses', was both a celebration of neurodiversity and effectively communicated the experience of cognitive overwhelm to a neurotypical audience.

I then started work on the big, oil painting, which I knew before I had created it, would be titled 'Enlarged Amygdala'. This title has a double-meaning, because it is a larger version of my first painting 'Amygdala', but it also refers to the physical change in the brain which occurs in people who have Anxiety, Depression and Autism. The painting is 100 x 80cm, and similarly to 'Synapses', it has a fleshy pink base with no other brush marks, but vibrant, colourful splatters on top. Due to the size of the canvas, I didn't have enough paint to cover the entire canvas as thickly as the base layer 'Synapses' (well, I could have done, but it would have been very expensive, due to the cost of oil paint). If I make another large painting in the future, I might invest in more paint so I can achieve the thick base layer. I used a wide variety of different colour hues for the splatters, including primary, flourescent and pastel tones. I'm not sure if this worked as it made the painting quite choatic and discordant, although this was what I was trying to achieve, visually it's not that appealing - but maybe that's not the point... I love the way the gestural brush strokes and splatters evoke the illusion of thoughts or emotions chasing each other across the canvas, responding to each other and bursting into another directions. When you zoom in or look closely at the individual splatters, you can see and appreciate the beauty of each colour combination and mark, which contributes to the overwhelming sense of the whole.

In addition to the painting, I also wrote a song, titled 'How Does It feel?' - The intent of the song is that you could listen to the audio in a head set whilst looking at the details of the painting (whether this is ever achieved, remains to be seen), to create a multisensory experience of the artwork. The lyrics explore the topic of mental health, individualism and perception.


Can you tell me, how does it feel?

Does it take your breath away?

Or perhaps, you don’t feel anything,

That won’t change your mood today.

Waves of emotion can surge,

Violently inside your mind,

If you can, embrace the current,

Let your fears start to unwind


Can I take you out?

Of the world inside your head.

Forget what you were thinking,

And feel something else instead.

Can you be present,

In this moment with me.

I’m not asking you for much,

Just tell me how you feel


You’re present in the future,

Moving forwards to the past,

Feelings can take over,

But their hold on you never lasts,

Searching for the meaning,

when all the time it was inside,

You began to feel it,

The first time that you cried


Who can really say,

What is the meaning of all of this?

When mirrors cast their shadows,

The memories start to shift,

All that really matters,

Is the truth that you can feel,

Nothing is imagined,

When every thought is real.

How does it feel?

How does it feel?


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