Let us introduce you to L.A. resident Dr. Randal Haworth. While primarily a plastic surgeon known amongst his peers for innovations in the field, he's also an artist. Dr. Haworth began by hand-drawing medical illustrations and then crossed over into fine art in 2000. His current series "Iconography" has been called "anti-pop realism" by art critic Peter Frank who said Dr. Haworth's art "synthesizes classic style with Pop Surrealism."
If you don't know him for his art, you might know him from his time on Fox's reality show The Swan, which focused on giving people extreme makeovers, or from his numerous quotes in popular magazines like Life & Style, US Weekly, or Cosmopolitan where he is called on time and time again for his expertise.
Dr. Haworth talked to us about his career, his art, and making a life in the City of Angels.
When did you know medicine was the path for you? Was it something you always dreamed about as a small child or did it come up later in life?
As an only child, my family really wanted me to be a doctor but my DNA steered me in a more creative route since I excelled in art. As a kid living in England, I saw this BBC program featuring a plastic surgeon and it really stuck with me. At 13, I realized if I was going to be a doctor, it was going to be a plastic surgeon. Plastic surgery embodies a good synthesis of art and science. It really bridges both worlds.
How did you decide to go into plastic surgery?
Same reason, but I took a longer, more arduous route to get where I am. I started in general surgery at Cornell where I treated gunshot wounds, cancer patients, trauma victims, etc. Then I crossed a bridge into plastics when I applied and studied at UCLA.
What are some of the challenges you encounter on daily basis?
I’m kind of in a bizarre field if you think about it. I make healthy people temporarily unwell, while creating and controlling a scar; manipulating tissues so it heals in a way that make the patient more beautiful. The whole process constantly amazes me. So to answer your question, the most challenging aspect is the patient. Being able to figure out who is getting surgery for the right reasons is never easy. My goal is to make them happy, period. So, if I missed their expectation, whether it was reasonable or not, I have failed. I have to figure out who they are and determine whether their unhappiness is more deeply rooted.
What is your favourite procedure and why?
Nose. I became famous for lips and combination hyperesthetics during my time filming The Swan, but the most fun and satisfying procedure is a nose job. It is always interesting. Every nose is new and unpredictable, like each nose is a new little box with chocolates inside. The nose is a fascinating, surprising little thing; this 4 x 2 x 1 cm little area is so small, yet so powerful. You can do a myriad of maneuvers on the nose and change the whole look in general since it is the central element of the face. The slightest tweak can make a plain person shine into a beautiful diamond.
People are dying to know; is the life of a plastic surgeon really as glamorous as the hit TV show Nip/Tuck makes it out to be?
It all depends on how you define glamor. The life of a plastic surgeon is definitely interesting, as I have a treasure chest trove of stories. However, plastic surgery is a surprisingly difficult, intense field that requires an enormous amount of dedication and demonstration. The word "glamorous" makes it sound that it’s easy and free wielding. It’s a lot of hard work, and although you have access to high-end connections, you can choose not to utilize them. A lot of plastic surgeons are actually homebodies. You also have to be wary of people "liking" you just to reap the benefits of your hard work.
What was it like working on the show The Swan? How did you get involved with the program?
At first, I wasn’t interested in doing the show at all. My friend, whom I met during my fellowship at UCLA, was approached and he thought it would be fun to do it together. After a screen test at my office where I was still rather blaze about the entire thing, the casting department said that although they checked out many other plastic surgeons, very few people in the area could completely transform people in a very natural and convincing way like I can. It was then that it hit me- I did not realize how fortunate I was that this great opportunity just fell into my lap.
What were some of the joys and challenges of participating on a reality TV show?
The entire experience was exciting and different. Don’t get me wrong, it was very hard work. I still had to run my practice full time while doing the show, and The Haworth Institute was completely booked throughout the weekends.
For the show, we always did two separate surgical sessions for safety reasons. We did the facial surgeries first, and everything always took a tremendous amount of coordination.
At the time, the show was extremely controversial. The naysayers proclaimed that it was exploitation. However, I found that it was a very emotional experience. These people got the chance to change their lives and they were very appreciative. Their tears brought tears to everyone on staff, myself included.
Tell us a bit about your artwork. How did you get into art, and what media do you work in?
I have always been interested in art- both creating and collecting. My first show "Memories Lost" was at the BGH Gallery/Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. This body of work comprised photorealistic graphite drawings of missing children and adults. My next series was entitled "Icongraphy" and focused upon modern culture through anachronistic figurative images rendered in acrylic on canvas. A preview of "Icongraphy" was staged at The James Gray Gallery in Santa Monica and the official showing was at the prestigious Karen Lynne Gallery in Beverly Hills. "Icongraphy" was a tongue and cheek play on society about the vapid culture and consumerism. The paintings were from olden times manipulated with modern features.
My next series is more authentic. As a plastic surgeon, people think I shouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist. That doesn’t stop me because I’m going to do something that I’ve always dreamed of. I’m taking super-close photos of surgical scenes and blowing them up. I will then use the image as the inspiration as I paint it so closely that the audience won’t know exactly what they are looking at. It will be vaguely unsettling since it has no perspective.
Do you feel your artwork has evolved with the evolution of your profession as a plastic surgeon?
Good question, I have become a better plastic surgeon after painting because it has really allowed me to appreciate minute things. It’s a good lesson for me to be able to appreciate the super subtle details like a little shadow on the corner of a mouth. For me, painting really upped the ante, even though I never had any formal painting training. There are many talented artists, many more talented than me, but being a plastic surgeon, in terms of tweaking the human form, helped me tremendously.
We are familiar with your Icongraphy series. How did this series come to be?
I simply wanted to paint! I saw what was happening in the world, and was influenced by lowbrow art. Icongraphy was in a sense an internal dialogue with myself. The paintings all had messages.
Do you sense a shift in your artwork is on the horizon or are you not done with Icongraphy?
I think I made a statement with Icongraphy, but as for right now I’m done with it. I may return back eventually, but I want to test the waters of other genres. I'm turning my focus on abstract ways of communication.
What's up next for you?
My interests are with abstract and realism at the moment. I’m inspired by Glenn Brown and the various artists from Romania. As for plastic surgery goes, it is an evolution and not a real seismic shift. I’m going to continue to do what I’m doing, and incorporating the latest technology into my business. It takes a while make sure it is worth investing in or not since a lot of new technology is rubbish. Plastic surgery is a bizarre field!