An artist explores how plastic surgery will change the portrait you leave behind

January 10, 2012

An artist explores how plastic surgery will change the portrait you leave behind
An artist explores how plastic surgery will change the portrait you leave behind

Innovative artist Jonathon Yeo has done portraits of Tiger Woods, Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin and Nicole Kidman. Now, with the popularity of plastic surgery, Yeo has decided, “You’re Only Young Twice.” If you can catch his new exhibit at London’s Lazarides Gallery, you’ll see what he means.

Here’s his basic premise: As a portrait painter Yeo’s job is to read faces and try to work out what they are saying. Now, with people altering their faces through cosmetic surgery, these faces are harder to interpret. So, the artist’s job may change from painting someone and making it simply about them to using portrait painting to tell a story about our contemporary world. In other words, how do you portray a generation who has likely as not undergone plastic surgery?

For his plastic surgery project, Yeo wanted to avoid using celebrities as he had in the past, fearing that people would dismiss the paintings as attention-seeking. He told, Dec. 23, 2011, that he approached plastic surgeons to get subjects for his paintings. The question he asked them was, “What bodily areas are interesting and what bodily areas tell their stories best through painting?” As part of his project, Yeo actually went and observed some surgeries, but did not set up an easel in the operating theatre.

Yeo is angered by media coverage of plastic surgery because it always seems to judge one way or the other. Some coverage suggests, “It’s wrong, people shouldn’t be doing that, that’s cheating.” At the other extreme, there are those who say, “What could be better than looking ten years younger?” Yeo seeks to avoid either point of view. “The debate is a bit irrelevant ….the phenomenon is not going to go away.” Yeo wants to examine the consequences of plastic surgery growing so quickly. What does it mean for a portrait artist?

Each of Yeo’s paintings makes a point about a type of surgery or the mentality behind it. He is very grateful for his experience watching facelift surgery. Instead of making assumptions about how the face moves, he could see these muscles being pulled in different directions.

He is at the beginning of this project and is now especially fascinated by surgical techniques and the procedures people desire. For example, in the Far East, people go to Korea to get their eyes more Western-looking and in the Middle East they have their noses done. Yeo fears that cosmetic surgery may lead to a more homogenized look, ironing out racial differences. The bottom line is, when our grandchildren look at our portraits (or photos), will they still be able to see their genetic roots?

The mission of the Aesthetic Society includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Aesthetic Society, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to

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