The Doctor is Out -- Painting

Courtesy Richard Stark

In November 1935, Stanford was trying to seal its third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl in a battle against the Huskies. Dick Stark, head yell leader at the time, remembers running through the rain with his megaphone, stoking the screaming crowd as the team clinched its victory.

Yet, for all his love of big games and giant stadiums, Stark says it was the tiny, "almost nonexistent" art department that excited him most. Cartooning for the Chaparral and studying art history helped shape his future. Many years later, when he was a well-known plastic surgeon, Stark would turn to his pen and paintbrush after long hours at the operating table. "It was just so invigorating, it didn't add any physical fatigue," he says. "It was a breath of fresh air."

Stark has spent a lifetime balancing medicine with art. "In college, he used to talk about whether he wanted to become an artist or a doctor," recalls classmate Jim Ludlam, '36, of Pasadena. In fact, Stark says, "art was the thing that interested me in plastic surgery. Design is important when you're recreating a face."

In his first surgical post -- reconstructing the disfigured faces of U.S. soldiers at a World War II evacuation center in Germany -- he found time to paint 85 travelscapes. He returned from the war with a Bronze Star in 1946 and promptly had his first exhibit, at a gallery in Santa Barbara, where a watercolor caught the eye of his first buyer, the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. A decade later, Stark founded the plastic surgery department at St. Luke's Hospital in New York, which he chaired for 30 years while continuing to exhibit new works.

Stark usually draws his scenes in ink and then fills spaces minimally with watercolor. He likes to paint landscapes and rarely portrays human faces. "I was focusing on people all the time in plastic surgery, and I really wanted to get away from it," he says. "I guess I was drawn more to nostalgic scenes."

Stark's works depict his own experiences, including his travels as a physician. Images of fishing boats and gondolas recall his visits to Europe, and paintings of Barbados shantytowns evoke the time he spent teaching surgery on the island. In all, he has had 22 exhibits in the United States and Europe. Now 85 and retired from surgery, he considers art his full-time job. Stark's favorite subject at the moment is New York City, where he and his wife, Judy, live on the Upper East Side.

He often paints closer to home these days -- but what a journey it has been.