Doctor Exchanges Scalpel for Paintbrush

Last year’s exhibition “The Art of Medicine,” which featured artwork made by area medical professionals, proved so popular at Boca Raton’s Elaine Baker Gallery that the Gallery Center space is opening a sequel, “The Art of Medicine: Refilled,” this Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The free reception will include refreshments and live performance art.

The show features the work of nearly 40 physicians, and it runs through Nov. 3. One of the participating artists, Dr. Richard G. Schwartz, has been a plastic surgeon for 31 years and currently operates a practice in West Palm Beach. Two of his oil-on-canvas works, titled “Moonscape” and “Choices,” are on display in the show, and he spoke with me this week about his work.

How long have you been painting?

I’ve been painting for approximately nine or 10 years. What made you start?

I had always had an interest in trying to paint, but I had never taken the steps to learn. I was always busy helping to raise my children and building my practice, so I never devoted the time. About nine years ago I decided that I just wanted to see how satisfying it would become to explore painting.

What or who has inspired you to paint?

Becoming a plastic surgeon. I consider plastic surgery to have a creative artistic aspect to it. In dealing with the human form, whether it be the face or other parts of the body, it had given me an appreciation of artistic forms, and it got me interested. I knew I was creative and had artistic perceptions, and I wanted to translate that into a different type of endeavor.

How often do you work?

On average, I only complete maybe one or two a year, with some gaps in there. I sort of paint when I’m inspired and when I get an idea, rather than trying to do a series of something in particular. I have been inspired by thoughts and ideas I wanted to express. As an example, a painting not included in the show is a representation of a type of dream I used to have as a child. I had forgotten all about it until I looked in an art book and saw a scary picture of a haunted house. I was reminded of this dream I used to have at age 5 or 6 which followed my exposure to the death of a neighbor. It was my becoming aware of someone dying. I decided after all these years to paint that scene from my childhood. It’s an image of my bedroom and where I was when I used to have the dream, and incorporated certain things from it.

Another example is “Choices,” a still life, which is more than just a representation of two pears. It’s called “Choices” because one of the pears is very healthy and the other is overly ripe and turning to be rotten. They are placed in front of a background of a very sunny bright sky and a dark, threatening sky. I wanted something to indicate paths or choices- the good and bad choices people make in their lives.

Do you think of your art as more than a hobby, like perhaps you could have been a painter full-time in another life?

I might have enjoyed that, though I’ve had very little formal training. I stared out attending some classes and having instruction for two years before I painted on my own. I would certainly acknowledge it would be interesting.

Is it something you would consider if and when you retire?

I think definitely.

In both of these works, I get a sense of parts of the human anatomy, more explicitly in “Moonscape” but even somewhat in “Choices.” Is this intentional?

It is intentional, because I deal with the human anatomy every day in my practice, helping to change and improve aspects or physical characteristics of the body. I do believe it comes into play in my painting.

Given that this is the second show of its kind that Elaine Baker is putting on, are you surprised to learn just how many medical professionals are also artists?

I think it’s wonderful, because it helps make for a more complete individual in a way, and that would be because certainly there’s a strong methodical, scientific aspect to certain parts of medicine, but there’s an art to medicine. It’s not just looking at lab tests, it’s dealing with patients and understanding their personalities and their families. There’s a more humanistic side as opposed to a scientific one.