Losing A True Artist In The World Of Anatomy

Stephen Barrett DPM FACFAS

I had virtually no initial understanding of what the artist was trying to say to me through his work. He was famous, internationally known and revered by many, but I had not had the opportunity to know him or his work. However, via some of my respected and trusted friends from Catalonia, I became quickly immersed into his world and became a profound appreciator just like the rest of them. The first work of art they steered me to was just there. I did not get it at all. At first, I thought very little of it because I had no way to process what was there on that canvas. Then slowly, with pause and an explanation, I started to see things that were at first not there. Of course, they were there all along: the melting watch on the edge of the table and the orange clock covered with ants. What did these things mean? The melting watch, some say, symbolizes the relativity of space and time. The orange clock, some say, is a symbol of decay. How could a normal man paint this? Was this some sign of genius on canvas, which could provide unending interpretation, solely dependent on the intellect and dedication of the interpreter? The painting is The Persistence of Memory, painted by Salvador Dalí, perhaps the greatest surrealist painter in history. Dalí was born in Figueres, Spain in 1904 and painted this work in 1931. Dalí was from Catalonia, a fiercely independent region in northeast Spain. How could someone this young be so imaginative? Almost 10 years ago, on my first visit to Catalonia, I met a true artist. One could say he was a surrealist and I also believe he was a genius. I do not use that term patronizingly but this surrealist was an anatomist and did something with anatomy that I had never seen before. After studying his work and realizing that I had never seen anything like this before, I told my friend Eduard, who introduced me, that this artist was the Salvador Dalí of anatomy. His name was Pau Golano. Professor Golano taught at the University of Barcelona but was known internationally for his artful dissection and unique portrayal of anatomy. It is said that his favorite joint was the ankle. His “Anatomy of the ankle ligaments: a pictoral essay” is without a doubt his Persistence of Memory and probably supports that statement.1 Look at the images. Study them. Realize the detail. Recognize the painstaking work it took to render dissections such as these in this essay and see if you understand my total captivation by this man’s work. I was fortunate enough to have met him and become an acquaintance of his. I even had the honor of him requesting some of my publications to assist him in projects he was doing. I once had the opportunity to sit down with him in a hotel lounge and have him show me what he was doing. This took about three hours and several cocktails, but seemed like mere minutes. His stuff was not only great but he presented it in a surrealist Dalí fashion. I am not talking about a mundane dissection or a routine cross section of the lower leg. I am talking true art. Surreal renderings derived from painstaking hours of dissection combined with expertise in high-grade photographic techniques, and the development of new tissue handling and processing techniques bringing something (which was a cadaver) to life. Don’t believe me? Go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2855022/ and click on the illustrations. Pay special attention to Figure 17. It is absolute true beauty. No orange clock or melting watch, but hauntingly beautiful anatomy. Pau had a special gift and his work has improved the lives of many. Through his anatomical expertise, he gave surgeons totally new perspectives to advance surgical technique. Not only was his work unique and special from an anatomy standpoint, he allowed for the advancement of biomechanical understanding and refinement of surgical techniques based on his painstaking discoveries. Pau Golano was taken away from us on July 23, 2014. Sadly, it was by a failure of aberrant anatomy, a cerebral aneurysm leading to a massive stroke. What he has given us is true genius like Dalí. Surreal and avant garde, stimulating and ever inventive, his works will live on. Pau is not with us anymore but his “persistence of memory” will last forever. Rest in peace professor. Reference 1. Golanó P, Vega J, de Leeuw PA, et al. Anatomy of the ankle ligaments: a pictorial essay. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2010;18(5):557-69.

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