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Biologist Finds Art Through Pain
Rodrigo Lois
Rodrigo Lois, associate professor of biological science, became an artist after learning he had colon cancer. Here, he stands beside two of his watercolor drawings that are on display in the dean’s office of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences through May 26.

April 19, 2006 :: No. 216
by Mimi Ko Cruz

Rodrigo Lois was devastated when he got the news from his doctor: “You have colon cancer.”

That was nearly four years ago and, today, this associate professor of biological science is enjoying a newfound passion since he received that fateful diagnosis. As he underwent his first round of chemotherapy, he thought about picking up a paintbrush and trying his hand at art.

“I took a picture of myself and then used a computer program that imitates painting,” Lois said. “I ‘painted’ my picture on the computer and was amazed at what I created. But, I was more amazed that while I was doing it, I felt no discomfort, no pain. I was slipping into this other world without worries.”

Art became his liberator, his passion.

The Lake Forest resident enrolled in an art class in Irvine Valley College’s Emeritus Institute and learned to paint with watercolors. He has completed more than 200 paintings, some of which are on display (and available for purchase) in the dean’s office of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. They are on exhibit through May 26.

An artist’s reception, open to the public, is scheduled for May 5 from 1-3 p.m. in the Humanities-Social Sciences Building, Rooms 211 and 213.


‘These are paintings that everyone can enjoy, but their complexity will impress even the most sophisticated viewer.’


“Rodrigo Lois’s paintings are stunning examples of a mastery that belies the relatively short time he has been painting,” said Thomas Klammer, dean of the College of Humanities and  Social Sciences. “He works in a difficult medium — watercolor — yet appears able to employ color in a convincing way that surprises the viewer over and over again, whether the individual works are completely abstract or more realistic still lifes, landscapes and portraits. These are paintings that everyone can enjoy, but their complexity will impress even the most sophisticated viewer.”

Lois has been teaching at Cal State Fullerton for 14 years. The 52-year-old scientist-artist immigrated to the United States from Chile 32 years ago and earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCLA in 1986. His research projects include his current study of how a plant protects itself against ultraviolet radiation on a molecular level.

Lois is probing the flavonoids of Arabidopsis, a relative of cabbage. Flavonoids are made when plants are exposed to UV rays and can absorb them before they can damage the plant’s innards. Lois has bred the plant to produce more of the pigment and, as a result, it is more resistant to UV rays. He now is studying how plants can “see” if there are UV rays in light and make more flavonoids if needed.

“Science and art are very, very similar,” Lois said, adding that both require cutting loose of inhibitions and preconceived notions.

For him, drawing was something he admired from a distance, something he thought he could never do. It wasn’t until he faced the possibility of death that painting became possible.

“Before my disease, I couldn’t draw a stick figure,” Lois said. “Then, I enabled myself to let go. When you let go and just go with your intuition, that’s when you dive into uncharted waters,” he said. “Don’t stop yourself.

Media Contacts:

Rodrigo Lois, Biological Science, rlois@fullerton.edu
Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs, 657-278-7586 or mkocruz@fullerton.edu

 


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