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Published 8/1/2013
Jennie McKee

An Orthopaedist’s Quest for Self-Expression

Gallery displays unique artwork of Nitin Banwar, MD

“With even my best surgical work, my patients are eventually going to grow old and pass away. But art is more permanent,” said orthopaedic surgeon and artist Nitin Banwar, MD, describing what motivates him to draw, create collages, and pursue other art forms. “I want to leave a unique signature that communicates to the world that there was someone named Nitin Banwar.”

Dr. Banwar, medical director of the Joint Replacement Center at Geneva General Hospital in Geneva, N.Y., has honed his artistic abilities as well as his clinical skills for decades. The many works in his first-ever gallery exhibition, “Mythologies and Cultures,” held at the Arts & Cultural Council for Greater Rochester (N.Y.), showcased both his love of global cultures and his passion for orthopaedics.

“Orthopedic Abstract I,” by Nitin Banwar, MD
Courtesy of Nitin Banwar, MD

Artistic beginnings
Dr. Banwar began drawing during his childhood in India. He completed his first major art project while a student at Armed Forces Medical College in Pune, India, in the 1970s.

“I made a series of ballpoint-on-paper drawings of cars from various decades, from the 1910s through the 1970s,” he said. “They were my own designs, but they looked like they belonged to certain periods.”

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Banwar traveled to the United States to complete his postgraduate education, arriving with very little money. While awaiting his visa and living in Atlanta, he used his artistic skills to make a living.

“I was a sidewalk artist, making and selling sketches,” he said. Lacking the money for art supplies, he drew on materials discarded by picture frame shops.

Global influences
Dr. Banwar completed a residency in general surgery at the University of Rochester, followed by an orthopaedic residency at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Penn., and soon entered practice. He began creating art again in the early 1990s infusing the works with the symbolism of various cultures.

“I consider myself a global citizen,” he explained. “I’m American of Indian origin. But because I have siblings living in Australia, Sweden, and India, and I live in the United States, my mind is open to other ideas. I am able to appreciate different art forms and cultures.”

In his mixed media works, including drawings, collages, and etchings, Dr. Banwar uses pens, pencils, ink, cutouts, and more on various surfaces to create complex, intricate images imbued with meaning. He finds inspiration in a wide range of sources, such as symbols from Indian mythology, Australian Aboriginal art, and Buddhism.

“If I have an aesthetic or an emotive response to something, I try to incorporate it into the work I do. I use a pencil, pen, collage cutout, or a particular symbol, but I don’t like the soft end of brushes,” he said. “I’m a typical surgeon, so I want the degree of control one gets from a tool with a hard point.”

He adds that “all of my pieces have very strictly defined linear lines, which comes not only from being a surgeon, but also from the influence of Japanese wood cuts, which have precise lines.”

During his visits to Australia, Dr. Banwar was captivated by the work of Aboriginal Australian artists.

“I have a very small but fine collection of Australian art that influences my work,” said Dr. Banwar. He also has pieces from other parts of the world, such as Africa and India, and draws inspiration from his extensive book collection.

Artistic evolution
Dr. Banwar, who has long focused on creating fine art that incorporates cultural symbolism, has recently added new elements to his work. When he decided to digitally archive his work, he began collaborating with digital colorist and artist Tony Dungan. Mr. Dungan photographs Dr. Banwar’s fine art as well as industrial pieces that feature orthopaedic devices, such as total knee and total hip implant devices.

“The implants I use are beautiful pieces of industrial design,” said Dr. Banwar. “Between the two of us, we came up with the idea of photographing orthopaedic devices and incorporating them into the art.”

After Mr. Dungan photographs the pieces, he collaborates with Dr. Banwar as they manipulate the images by expanding and contracting them, putting them on different backgrounds, and applying a wide range of colors.

“We are working together to develop a new art form,” said Dr. Banwar. “I usually provide some of the creative ideas and design elements, and Tony implements them digitally. Now I have collaborative art that uses implants as pieces of design, as well as art that is somewhat ethnic, modern, and symbolist.”

The pair has created about 20 pieces thus far, and is currently working on a three-dimensional printing process to create prints of the collaborations.

An exhibition is born
The 30-plus works presented in the “Mythologies and Cultures” gallery exhibit, presented last May, included Dr. Banwar’s fine art pieces, as well as industrial pieces and digital art featuring orthopaedic devices.

Dr. Banwar found a great deal of satisfaction in having his first public art exhibition.

“I not only observed people reacting to the art, but also observed myself reacting to their reactions,” he said. “When they came up to me and asked me questions, I enjoyed talking with them about different cultures. People who were very perceptive picked up on small things.”

According to Dr. Banwar, while his fine art has a great deal of symbolic meaning, his industrial pieces mainly have visual appeal.

“I have four or five versions of a piece involving the orthopaedic tree, the universal symbol of orthopaedics,” he explained. “The tree is centered in an acetabular cup used for hip arthroplasty. One version uses black and purple, and another version uses a brown tree against an orange and yellow background.”

He was delighted to exhibit his many works at the gallery.

“I’m an unknown artist, and I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “I always wanted to have the audience, not for commercial reasons, but because it’s important for my sense of identity. I don’t want an expert to tell me why something is not a great piece of art. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I have created a piece of art that is uniquely me.”

Jennie McKee is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at mckee@aaos.org

Learn More
http://masterprintgallery.com/artists/nitinbanwar.phpto learn more about Dr. Banwar’s art.