Elizabeth Harris, M.D.

Artist Statement

Dr. Elizabeth Harris at her easel
Dr. Elizabeth Harris at her easel

I have always needed to create art. Even when surrounded by surgical steel and gray hospital walls, I dreamed of painting. I would stare out windows, close my eyes and imagine the same colors blended on a canvas. I make my living as a surgeon, but I live to be an artist. I find peace when I see color flow onto a canvas.

As a physician, it was inevitable that I would be attracted to drawing and painting the human form. My medical school anatomy notebook was filled with diagrams of my dissections shaded and colored, totally unlike any other student’s. My clinical years further exposed me to anatomy, disease and examination. I learned by drawing, by being visual.

In my profession, I encounter imperfect figures daily, yet to me, they are beautiful. Body changes such as irregular contours, stretched, sagging skin and round curves are beautiful because they represent the changes of a woman’s body after pregnancy, birth and life. As a plastic surgeon, I am asked to correct them. I would rather draw and paint them. The irregularities are much more interesting than the flawless figure. They represent life and birth. Yet I do correct the flaws, because that is my job. We all strive to be perfect.

My drawings of the human figure and medical illustrations are technical and precise. My landscape paintings are loose and free with floating colors and vibrant blues. Someday I will combine the two and paint the figure as it is my passion.

Manipulation of my drawings onto the etching plate adds an additional dimension to my art. Printmaking is the perfect combination of chemistry and drawing. Metals, acids, bases and salts define an etching. Chemical reactions can be controlled and then be physically transferred to paper. It is an ancient technique yet one in which the reactions can be altered by modern tools. I am intrigued by the ways that science can be manipulated. Manipulation of the print has similarities to manipulating human tissue. In surgery, I use metal and the physical properties of the body to create and alter. My surgical technique is enhanced by my artistic ability, and yet, my surgical training has enhanced my art.