Holmes Beach resident Dr. Andre Renard is well-known for his skills as a plastic surgeon, having been in practice for 40 years.
Many people do not know that Renard also is an accomplished artist who creates large-scale paintings brimming with complex sociopolitical themes.
The humble and soft-spoken doctor’s artistic work soon will gain more prominence and attention when it is revealed to the world at the 33rd Annual International Artexpo, in New York City, from March 22–25.
Hundreds of artists from every corner of the world convene at Artexpo each year to showcase paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, ceramics, glass work and more. The prestigious event is the world’s largest fine art trade show, which has featured such artists as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Keith Haring.
Although he is mere days away from presenting 13 of his paintings at the exhibition, Renard admits that aside from a small art show on Anna Maria Island several years ago, he has never publicly shown his work.
“My kids kept telling me for years to show my work, but I never did,” he said. “They finally became impatient and took over. They sent photographs of my paintings to a gallery in Manhattan and next thing I knew, I was shipping them off to show in Artexpo.”
Painting has been a passion for Renard, who was born in Belgium in 1940, ever since his parents presented him with his first easel, paint brush and set of oil paints when he was just seven years old. He never pursued formal education in fine art, choosing instead to teach himself how to paint by copying works of a variety of artists ranging from the 16th Century Flemish genre painter Pieter Bruegel to 20th Century Belgian Surrealist René Magritte.
“I don’t belong to any movement, trend or school of art,” Renard said. “Because I was never taught the rules, I get to do whatever I want without any restrictions.”
By the time he entered college, Renard was determined to pursue a career in architecture. Following the encouragement of his parents, however, he chose instead to pursue a degree in the medical field.
“In Brussels, there is a prestigious architecture school very close to an equally-reputable school for fine arts,” Renard recalled. “I think my parents were concerned that if I went for a degree in architecture, I would just go next door to the art school, so they encouraged medicine instead.”
After attending medical school at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Renard moved to the United States in 1970 to complete his residency at the University of Florida’s Health Science Center in Jacksonville, where he worked for 20 years before moving to the Bradenton area where he has practiced ever since.
Despite his grueling surgeon’s schedule, Renard’s passion for creating art has never faded. In addition to his personal paintings, he found a way to blend his art with his medical practice by producing illustrations for publications, such as the American Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Florida Medical Association Journal.
The work to be featured at Artexpo, however, is that which truly showcases the signature style Renard has developed over the years.
“It’s a mixture of realistic painting with cartoonish figures that I like to call my ‘little characters,’ ” he said. “Almost everything I paint has some relation to a social or political movement or some kind of historical event.”
Renard describes his personal favorite piece, Rube, as a celebration of feminism, stating that women have the power to save the world. Rube features a woman in a red dress posed in a bold and assertive stance behind a broken brick wall. Spilling out of the broken space in the wall and into the foreground of the painting are Renard’s cartoonish “little characters.”
Renard’s Ground Zero is another example of his stylistic contrast between photorealistic painting and cartoonish illustration. The right half of the picture plane is dominated by the striking image of the burning Twin Towers, while the left side features an array of his “little characters,” including Benjamin Franklin, the Statue of Liberty and the iconic image of George Washington crossing the Delaware River.
“I never had anyone telling me how to divide a canvas, so I have the freedom to simply do it by inspiration,” he said.
Although Renard believes the exhibition of his work at Artexpo will bring more opportunities, he has no intention of turning his back on medicine.
“I love surgery and when I have to give it up, it will be tough to do,” he said. “I love the contact with people and the variety of problems to solve.”
Renard currently specializes in facial reconstruction, particularly for patients who have been cosmetically affected by a medical condition such as skin cancer, a cleft palate or pressure sores. Despite the fact that the surgeries he performs are intended to enhance his patients’ appearance, Renard is careful to distinguish plastic surgery from art.
“Plastic surgery is craftsmanship, not art. The canvas is already there and the only tools you have to work with are skin, fat, muscle and bone. There are so many limitations in plastic surgery that don’t exist in art,” he explained.
“With art, you create something from an empty canvas and you get to choose your medium. You can start something and continue to create and change it without limitation.”
Although his career in plastic surgery spans more than 40 years, from the looks of it, Renard is just standing on the cusp of an exciting artistic future – without a single limitation in sight.
For more information about Artexpo and Andre Renard’s featured work, visit the exhibition’s website.