For some, art and science represent two distinct worlds. But for Jordan Tang, Ph.D., the two are inextricably linked.
Tang has headed the Protein Studies Research Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation for 35 years and has carved a sterling reputation as one of country’s leading Alzheimer’s disease researchers. But on Sunday, he will reveal a different side of himself at the Norman Santa Fe Depot.
February 5 will mark the opening of “Dual Adventures into Art,” an exhibition of paintings by Tang and Norman’s Don Holladay. The two men are long-time friends and fellow board members of the Oklahoma Arts Institute.
Tang’s portion of the show will consist of ten pieces, including four novel works that he terms “stereo” paintings. Each of those works consists of what looks, to the naked eye, like a pair of flat, side-by-side images. But when the viewer dons a pair of stereoscopes – essentially sophisticated 3D glasses – the two images merge to form a single, three-dimensional image.
“I got the idea from my work at OMRF, where we often use stereoscopes to study computer-generated images of crystallized proteins,” said Tang. “With stereoscopes, we can combine a pair of two-dimensional images to create a three-dimensional image. So I thought, ‘Hey, why can’t I do that with a painting, too?’”
In the laboratory, Tang relied on computer calculations to generate the three-dimensional scientific images. “For several years, I tried and failed to generate stereo art images using a computer,” he said. “But I finally found a practical way to do it without a computer.”
Though best-known as a scientist, Tang, a native of Taiwan, actually got his start as an artist. “After college, I served in the military, and then was given a government job with the fertilizer bureau,” he said. “My job was to make propaganda for farmers on the virtues of using modern fertilizer to increase the productivity of their crops. When they found out I could draw, they had me design posters to hang in villages around the country. Millions of them were made and distributed in rural areas.”
Tang traded his drawing pad for test tubes when he came to Oklahoma State University to study biochemistry in 1955. In the ensuing five decades, he has enjoyed a celebrated career at OMRF, highlighted in recent years by the creation of an inhibitor to halt the enzyme believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Through it all, though, Tang has stayed active in the arts. He sculpts and plays the piano, and in 2002 he put on a one-man show of his paintings at the University of Central Oklahoma. His art hangs at the Presbyterian Health Foundation in Oklahoma City and the Sarkeys Foundation in Norman, and he has donated several of his paintings to charity auctions for the Alzheimer’s Association. He also serves on the boards of the Oklahoma Arts Institute and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Some find it surprising that a talented scientist also possesses such an artistic bent. But for Tang, the two pursuits go hand-in-hand. “Art and science share a common bond,” he said. “They both stem from the drive to create.”
“Dual Adventures into Art” will premiere on Sunday, February 5, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Norman Santa Fe Depot’s Performing Arts Studio, 200 South Jones Avenue. The show will run through March 26. For further information, please call (405) 307-9320.