Journey for the Painting

Jana Šmardová

The image was incredibly appealing to Jana. It caught her eye at first glance at a conference in Lyon, France, in 1999, when it appeared on the cover of the conference proceedings. In a special way, it interweaves two worlds that we traditionally perceive as separate: the world of cells and the world of people. Here, the silhouette of a girl is artfully sketched inside a greatly enlarged human osteoclast. Osteoclasts are huge cells that are involved in the formation of bone mass in our bodies. Who came up with the idea of incorporating a human figure into cells? The idea came from the meeting of two Pierres: Pierre Jurdic, a French cell biologist, our collaborator and friend who worked with osteoclasts in his laboratory, and Pierre Favré, his cousin, a painter who was so fascinated by osteoclasts that he used their micrographs as inspiration for several of his paintings. One of them, that Pierre Jurdic, the co-organizer of the conference, liked best, appeared in the abstract book.

And Jana shuddered when she saw it for the first time. It touched her in several ways. One of them was the level of unfulfilled desire. The girl in the picture seemed to be somehow shackled and trapped in a cell, kept from fulfilling her dreams. That’s why she called the painting “Ikaros“, a symbol for burnt wings that want to fly upwards. Jana had a great desire to “soar higher” and she worked hard all her life to achieve it. Nevertheless, she was unable to fulfill some of her wishes. She was happy that one wish that was particularly important to her came true: to write a book in which she combines her knowledge of tumor cells with the lessons they can bring to us – humans – not only in the field of cancer prevention, but more generally for healthy lives of us – individuals, members of human society and society as a whole. This brings us to the second level of their enthusiasm for this painting. It aptly expresses the main message of the book – the interconnectedness of the cell and organism systems and the validity of the same laws in both. To capture this principle, she eventually named it “As above, so below” and, with the author’s approval, began to use it as the central graphic motif in her lectures and later in her book “What Tumors Teach“. After many years and vicissitudes, she managed to get the original of this relatively large painting into her personal possession, and it meant so much to her that she turned the story of the painting, which was strangely interwoven with her personal story of fulfilling her dream of writing a book, into the short story “My Journey for the Painting“. Well worth reading.

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