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Dramatic art depicts triumph over HIV

miracle of hope.JPG

I stopped by recently to get a peek at Stanford’s new Positive Care Clinic (.pdf) in Atherton, which is getting some attention these days because of its new art acquisition. Woodside, Calif. painter Dave Putnam was generous enough to donate a triptych to the clinic, his artistic interpretation of the body’s triumph over HIV. Putnam says he was inspired by some HIV-positive friends who found it helpful to envision the internal turmoil - and ultimate victory - over the disease.

“The whole idea began percolating in my mind - that hope begins on a molecular level, where there is a kind of warfare going on,” Putnam told me. He noted that after antiretroviral treatment first became available in the late 1990s, “The good guys began winning. These drugs have saved millions of people, and no one is really acknowledging that. So I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we are positive about it - about the good things that have happened.”

His dramatic paintings, all 36 by 48 in size, have provoked some interest among patients, according to clinic manager Laura Tracy, RN. The acrylics, which hang in the hallway of the clinic, show a cell that is permeated by multiple black dots. These represent the invasion of the HIV protease enzyme, which is essential to survival of the virus. Blue dots on the canvas are used to capture the image of the fighters - the protease inhibitors that stop cell growth. Gradually, the blue dots spread and overtake the nasty enzyme. In the last painting, a bright yellow canvas shines through, as the enzyme is destroyed (though remnants of the virus remain, as current therapies never completely eradicate it).

Putnam unveiled the artworks in a reception at his Woodside gallery last month. He’s also donating 30 percent of the proceeds from his August art sales to the clinic, which serves more than 500 patients. The clinic, which was started in 1994, provides comprehensive care for those with HIV/AIDS and related conditions; it's directed by Andrew Zolopa, MD, associate professor of medicine and acting chief of infectious diseases at Stanford.

Image of Miracle of Hope I by Dave Putnam

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