By Nancy T. Lu
Cardiologists generally look at the human heart strictly as a vital life-pumping organ with possible cardiac concerns for them to address as virtual plumbers and electricians. But Dr. William T. Chua 蔡景明, a renowned heart rhythm specialist with years of training and experience in electrophysiology, has taken his own doctor’s perception of the workings of the human heart to an exciting artistic level as seen in his collection of inspired paintings and sculpture pieces over the years.
Dr. Chua picked up the painting brush to become a true artist about 28 years ago. However, his doodling exercises began much earlier during his childhood days. He later even courted his wife with his drawings.
After building a reputation as a painter with a few successful shows to his name and special projects like the mural in the lobby of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City to his credit, he became fascinated with sculpture, a branch of the visual arts, three years ago. Since then, he has not stopped channeling his creative impulse and energy towards the creation of new shapes and forms during his spare time. In fact, he unveiled his monumental “Puso (Heart)” outside the Medical Arts Building of the Philippine Heart Center in late July last year. This landmark sculpture on East Avenue in Quezon City started out as a study created with television cables. Black iron pipes given a red urethane finish were tapped to make the final work of art with a black granite base.
Finding a life outside of his clinic and the hospitals where he makes his rounds seems to have kept this doctor with a kilowatt smile ever happy. His face truly lights up when he gets an opportunity to discuss his latest art activity with his famous artist friends among his cardiac patients like Romulo Galicano and Sofronio Y. Mendoza (more widely known as SYM). The late National Artist and leading Filipino painter Ang Kiu Kok at one point even emerged Dr. Chua’s personal mentor through his solicited critiques of the cardiologist’s paintings. Ang once painted over the doctor’s work completely. He obliged when Dr. Chua finally asked him to sign the painting for obvious reason. Advice from this teacher on the necessity of facing and solving problems encountered in a work in progress helped put the still groping Dr. Chua on the right track towards improvement and growth as a serious artist.
Although a late bloomer in the world of sculpture, the 64-year-old Dr. Chua deserves recognition in the field of sculptural art expression by virtue of his ability to subtly fuse his fantasy with the reality dictated by his medical profession. In his collection of fairly recent works of sculpture, he manifests a remarkable flair for giving new life and color to the subject of science and medicine.
Each crossover he makes from cardiology to art excites him. The artist in him goes ecstatic over female sexuality in “Eve’s Tricuspid” from his “Tangible Rhythms” collection. Three leaf-like shapes in this particular sculpture, while holding images of naked art, branch out gracefully on top of a tree given the surreally revealing curves of a woman. His fondness for foliage, which was previously noticed in his paintings, reappears in his sculpture.
Dr. Chua likewise contemplates the beauty of the nude female form and celebrates it sometimes in a provocative way as in “EKG Waveforms.” This work of art inspired by an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) interprets the rate and regularity of the heartbeat with eye-stopping effect. Elsewhere, his row of old painting brushes of uneven lengths in a much-used container gets perceived as a metaphor in “Art of ECG.”
As a highly-respected medical practitioner who is fully dedicated to the promotion of heart health, Dr. Chua pays extra attention to the ever-busy and stressed mitral valve of the heart. The bicuspid valve takes the seductive silhouette of a winged angel in his “Mitral Ring.” A golden loop, a reminder of the ring existing between the upper and lower chambers of the heart, hangs dramatically in suspended animation while highlighting a beautifully attenuated torso. Meanwhile his “Dancing Mitral” captures a ballet dancer on her toes. The artist’s cardiac ideas and thoughts just keep spinning off with surprising twists and turns to delight.
The sculptor introduces a fascinating maze to suggest what heart experts know as the Purkinje network in two pieces titled “Diastole” and ”Systole” respectively. The layman, however, does not need to dwell on the rest period nor the actively beating phase of the heart. Two abstract works of sculpture produced with a stretch of the imagination in Dr. Chua’s style invite puzzling labyrinthine exploration or simple art appreciation. A big decorative mural from the same art theme series hangs prominently in the reception area of the Health Cube in Greenhills, where the heart specialist holds clinic regularly.
Electric impulses conducted through the equivalent of electrical wirings in the human heart to keep it alive are a concern of Dr. Chua. He describes himself as an electrician who deals with the rhythm problem of the heart. Actual cables and wires from his everyday life enabled him to give a tangible dimension to the heartbeat or rhythm of the heart. Somewhere along the way, too, he discovered the possibility of making an art statement about “Escape Beat” through a juxtaposition of hardware stuff like screws as well as nuts and bolts culminating with an unlocked pair of handcuffs.
His earliest playful attempts to create heart-inspired sculpture saw him working with television cables. His tools along with samples of his experimental studies can still be found in his atelier at his home, which resembles a small private museum. He got hooked in sculpture. But he also tried molding clay to suit his flight of fancy from time to time. One step led to another. Helping hands were found to finally execute his ideas in iron and bronze.
His not-so-big creations some of which were shown side by side with the works of acknowledged Filipino masters at an art fair in Makati not too long ago found buyers among art collectors. The self-taught talent in art emerged extremely happy and encouraged. He felt deeply the joy of sharing his art and getting rewarded with genuine appreciation. Actually when he first exhibited some pieces during the unveiling of his “Puso (Heart)” at the Philippine Heart Center last year, admiring guests expressed interest to buy them. But he with a sentimental streak was not ready then to part with his labor of love.
When professional healers of “broken” hearts gathered towards the end of May at the Edsa Shangri-La Manila for the Philippine Heart Association Convention, they had a chance to catch the exhibition of Dr. Chua’s “Tangible Rhythms” and even were enticed to undergo a beautiful crossover experience. Every displayed work on a familiar subject spoke to the viewers in the lofty language of art for a change.
This time, the art objects are being sold to raise money for the Heart Health Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to saving lives by helping poverty-stricken heart patients get desperately-needed medical attention and care since the exorbitant cost of heart disease treatment otherwise keeps it totally out of their reach.
“Tangible Rhythms” will remain on view at the Edsa Shangri-La Manila’s Mezzanine Floor until June 25. The Crucible at the SM Megamall is simultaneously exhibiting a related but different sculpture collection of Dr. William T. Chua.