LAWRENCE — Colors, words, shapes, broken faces and bodies — together they make a world in Jonathan Henriquez's new paintings.
They tell a story, too, drawing inspiration from a long dead plastic surgeon — Sir Archibald McIndoe. The experimental surgeon treated and gave life to badly burned pilots and bombers in World War II.
Henriquez, 20, a lively, wide-eyed award-winning painter from Methuen now living in Lawrence, says he feels like a plastic surgeon when painting.
In particular, like McIndoe, who developed new techniques for treating deep burns and injuries that up until that time would likely have killed the victims.
Henriquez said he admires McIndoe's imaginative thinking.
"He didn't go by plastic surgeon books, he went by looking at patients and (thinking), 'Let's see, I can work with (this),'" Henriquez said.
Henriquez's new paintings will be on display and for sale at an exhibit that opens with a reception Friday at 5 p.m. at the Essex Art Center, 56 Island St. in Lawrence. The show runs from Sept. 12 to Oct. 17.
For his part, Henriquez hopes anyone who sees the show will be glad they saw it.
Cathy McLaurin, head of the art center's special projects, expects visitors to the exhibit to be glad they came — and that future visitors to future Henriquez shows will likewise be glad for having seen his work.
She said he is a skilled drawer and mature beyond his years. She has been following his work and talking with him for the past year and admires his work ethic and commitment to art.
McLaurin, an artist herself, sees Henriquez poised to make a leap, both personally and in his work.
Henriquez has been transfixed by art since early childhood. At 6 he was drawn to the work of mural painters in the Bronx in New York City.
Later, when he moved to the Merrimack Valley, he started working his art, painting his walls at home at the age of 8.
"I feel there is creativity all around me," he said. "Whatever I have my hands on I try to make something with it."
If he had a napkin and a bottle of ketchup?
"I am not going to eat something with the ketchup and wipe my mouth," he said. Rather, he said he'd make something with the ketchup and napkin.
He was a kid whose mother told him not to play with his food. He did and still does.
He came across information on Sir Archibald McIndoe, who died in 1960, by accident. He was looking at a YouTube video suggested by a friend when his eye wondered from the page and saw a description of McIndoe's work.
That stumbling led to immersion. He has watched numerous documentaries and read numerous pieces about the surgeon.
Henriquez, who graduated from Methuen High School and studies art at Northern Essex Community College, made an art project based on McIndoe's work and the burn victims he treated.
Those men rallied under McIndoe's care, proudly claiming membership in the Guinea Pig Club. That's what the patients were called. They grew from 39 patients to more than 600. They had their own anthem and went on to help other burn victims in later years.
Henriquez said seven of 11 pieces in his upcoming show are based on case histories of men treated by McIndoe.
"I look at my canvases as a Guinea Pig Club," he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Jonathan Henriquez show
When: Sept. 12 through Oct. 17
Where: Essex Art Center, 65 Island St., Lawrence
How: Admission is free. Paintings are for sale
About Jonathan Henriquez
Has lived in New York City, Methuen and Lawrence
Attends school at Northern Essex Community College
Recipient of a Collaborative Visual Arts Award from Greater Lawrence Educational Collaborative in 2012.
Received four honorable mentions for the Boston Globe’s Scholastic Art and Writing Award, as well as a Silver Key Award in 2013.
Previously exhibited at El Taller in Lawrence.