UK HealthCare

How painting helps this UK pediatric cancer physician stay ‘balanced’

Dr. D'Orazio's exhibit will be on display in the Lillian Boyer Gallery at the Loudoun House through April 6. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
As a physician Dr. D'Orazio always likes to give his patients hope. He feels that his artwork is another way to contribute to humanity in a positive way. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
"Prismatic" consists of 34 geometric ways to put a rainbow down on canvas. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Dr. D'Orazio wakes up around 4 a.m. each morning to paint in his basement. He sets his supplies out on an old dining room table covered with a tarp and turns on his makeshift lighting system. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Each painting in this collection is intended to highlight the physical beauty that results when a prism diffracts light into the visible color spectrum. He combines the beauty of a rainbow with the ordered accuracy of mathematics. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Carter Skaggs | UK Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 13, 2024) – Not many people wake up before the sun rises to indulge in a hobby. But for John D’Orazio, M.D., his passion for a hobby he discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic remains something that still inspires him to wake up at 4 a.m.

D’Orazio has spent his career serving the children in the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic since 2004. He is the division chief for pediatric oncology, hematology and oncology, and also a cancer researcher at the UK Markey Cancer Center. Pediatric oncology is a career that comes with a lot of highs but also has its lows.

“One of the greatest highs is when a patient gets to ring the bell in the DanceBlue Clinic.  That means they are done with therapy, and can move on from cancer treatment,” said D’Orazio. “But there are patients who, because of the severity of disease, never get to ring the bell. As their oncologist, I am with them every step of their journey, no matter where it leads. This is the hardest part of my job.” 

He has always been someone who enjoys doodling and sketching different lines and shapes on a notepad. A few months before the pandemic began, he attended a Painting with a Twist class with his family.

 “My daughter and I thought it was fun,” said D’Orazio. “So, after the class, we decided to buy our own canvas and some paints and go for it without a time limit.”

This was the start of something that would be an outlet for Dr. D’Orazio during the challenging days at work and the uncertainties of COVID-19.

“I needed a distraction,” he said. “I got up every morning and painted. Painting was a way for me to deal with it all, it was like therapy to me.”

Most of his paintings consist of geometric shapes with various color palettes, and he pulls his inspiration from Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. He says he “had a blast” discovering this hobby and it has stuck with him for over four years now.

“I’m notorious for trying things out with a new hobby, buying all the equipment and then getting bored with it,” he said. “But that hasn’t happened with painting. I have kept with it.”

His art studio set-up is simple. He paints in his basement, placing his canvas on an old dining room table covered with a thick tarp and turning on his makeshift lighting system. He keeps his paints and brushes organized on a little art cart and spare canvases in the laundry room. It might not seem like much, but he says it’s cozy.

Creating artwork is therapeutic for D’Orazio, but it also helped him find a work-life balance. He believes to be the best professional you can be, you must be a balanced person.

“For me, I’m always thinking about my patients,” he said. “But, having something that you’re equally interested in outside of work keeps you fresh. I think well-balanced people are probably the healthiest.”

Patients and visitors in the DanceBlue Clinic can find his colorful paintings hanging in various rooms throughout the clinic. He has also donated several pieces to UK HealthCare to be displayed across other facilities. His vibrant artwork helps brighten spaces that would otherwise be blank.  

In 2023, D’Orazio decided to create a collection of rainbow-colored prism paintings and submit them for an exhibition. He was selected for a solo exhibition, and his art is currently being displayed in the Lillian Boyer Gallery at the Loudoun House here in Lexington.

His exhibit, titled “Prismatic,” is intended to highlight the physical beauty that results when a prism refracts light into the visible color spectrum.  

“Basically, the exhibit consists of 34 geometric ways to put a rainbow down on canvas, with a 3-dimensional cube thrown in just for fun,” said D’Orazio.

He understands that rainbows have various meanings to various people, and views his artwork as a symbol of resilience, joy and hope, just as rainbows appear naturally after a storm.  

“Kind of like ringing the bell at the end of cancer therapy for my patients,” he said.

On Feb. 9 ,he celebrated the opening night of his exhibit surrounded by family, friends, patients and community members.

“Opening night of the exhibit was amazing, I was so moved,” said Orazio. “It was so wonderful to be initiated into this really warm and inviting community.”

His goal is to continue helping people not only through medicine but also through his artwork.

“I’m an optimist as a physician,” said D’Orazio. “I always like to give my patients hope. I feel like this is another way I can contribute to the betterment of humanity in some way.”

“Prismatic” will be on display in the Loudoun House through April 6.

On March 15, from 5-8 pm, D’Orazio will be at his exhibit taking part in LexArts HOP, Lexington’s bimonthly celebration for art galleries downtown.

Learn more about LexArts HOP here.

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