Art Imitates Life

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

It is a masterful design of cells and tissue, organs and vessels, ligaments and bone. The human body is a work of art.

Dr. Meyer Emanuel understood its intricacies and translated them with brush and palette. The urologist and gastrointestinal surgeon took to the canvas at age 55, and over the next three decades produced hundreds of paintings that reimagine the marvel of life.

“It’s always wonderful to be able to see things from another perspective,” says Maddy Maxwell, spouse of the president and Dr. Emanuel’s daughter, calling attention to a collection that presents a diverse landscape—gland secretion portrayed as a lush tropics, bone marrow cells as exotic flowers, the nervous system a dance of sea wind and salt spray.

Dr. Emanuel’s creations have appeared on the cover of medical journals, in national exhibits, and on the walls of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. And some of them will soon enhance the learning spaces inside the University’s evolving STEM@DRAKE complex. The College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has selected several works by the late self-taught artist to be appraised and donated by Maxwell. Paintings were chosen for their potential to enhance the student experience.

“It was difficult to narrow down the selections, so we tried to pick a variety of pieces that could hang outside labs and in areas where students would be learning related information,” explains Renae Chesnut, associate dean for academic and student affairs and professor of pharmacy practice. She was describing a unique depiction of musculature displayed, say, near the kinesiology and athletic training classrooms. “Some were selected because they were unique representations of anatomy and physiology that would help students see the science in a different way.”

Alternative perspectives underlie much of Dr. Emanuel’s artwork, what he termed “medical fantasia.” Out of earlier work in illustration and cartooning grew a world of sometimes abstract, often surreal images crafted with oil, acrylics, watercolor, and ink and blended with insight, metaphor, and wit.

“He turned a microscope in the opposite direction and used a toilet paper tube to project a minute image on a glass slide onto the wall—so he could see what he really wanted to see,” recalls Maxwell, whose mother helped title each of the finished pieces—Organ Recital, Freeway, Cardiac Cathedral, The Four-Poster, and more.

“I like the idea of (the artwork) being part of a place like Drake, where it can spark imaginations,” she adds. “My father would be thrilled to know that people were not only enjoying but learning from it.”

See four pieces from the collection in the Flickr gallery below.

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