Painting An Unseen Disease

My work changed drastically one day in 2010 when I found myself creating surreal organic environments. I decided I didn’t feel like painting portraits anymore. Although I started from a place of abstraction, the new paintings became filled with strange hybrids of flowers, cells and symbols that appeared like organisms from another planet. It was only later that I found out I had cancer crawling through my body at an alarming rate. When my doctor showed me the scans of the tumor, it looked almost identical to what I had been painting, tentacles and all.

I was told I had a rare 1% of all cancers and I was in serious trouble. My tumor felt like it was a part of me, it had its own set of nerves and feelings separate from the rest of my body. I wondered what those heads of the tentacles were up to because they looked like they were on a mission. The tumor came quite fast, so the timing was too coincidental that I began them right as this thing was growing in my leg.

Sometimes a certain painting can be a pseudo-psychic way of tapping into what is going on with my own physiology. One surgeon said, “I know you are into this stuff” and sent me photos of what had been cut out during another operation. An encroaching mass of cysts looked exactly like what I had painted month before I even knew I had anything wrong. A few people told me I should stop doing the series because it might be the thing that is making me sick, but I don’t think that is true. It is just something I know already in some way, and it acts as a springboard for other compositions. I’ve survived a lot in the last seven years, and my right leg even became partially bionic. Doing the work is important because I never know when I’ll be interrupted with the next surgery or illness. I look over my shoulder a lot, as many survivors do. I’ve also learned the importance of being vigilant with healthcare workers; this is especially true with women’s health as the prevailing notion is that the patient is inaccurate, unreliable or imagining things.

This series brings together my interests in botany, microbiology, monsters, space, disease and the evolution of cells. Within those interests, I explore the particular roles that organisms, medicine, DNA and hybrids play, all while creating from my own imagination and instinct. Shaping aesthetic outcomes of these paintings doesn’t come from research or re-creating what already exists; I create my own nature within these little worlds. Flourishes of landscapes and starscapes as their environment, add to their story. If cells and viruses can look beautiful when magnified, I wonder what organisms on other planets look like? Is there something bigger we are a part of? What will these cells look like 10 days later and what about 10 million years later?

The irony is that I don’t like to analyze too much because creating something the viewer interprets with their own ideas is part of the experience. Invertebrates, flowers, human organs all come from the same natural process at the core, and visualizing their fictional evolution at any given stage is the most enjoyable part of creating for me.


Author: Arabella Proffer
Email: arabellaproffer@gmail.com
Author Bio: Arabella Proffer is a painter whose loose narrative themes revolve around a fascination with the history of medicine, women’s health and biomorphic organisms. She attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA before receiving her BFA from California Institute of the Arts and participates in solo and group exhibitions throughout North America as well as Europe, the Middle East and Australia.
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and bred in Southern California, she lives on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.
Link to social media or website: http://www.arabellaproffer.com

by Arabella Proffer

Arabella Proffer is an artist, author, and co-founder of the indie label Elephant Stone Records. Her loose narrative themes revolve around a fascination with punk rock, aristocrats, fashion, the history of medicine, and biomorphic organisms. She delves into the her practice of oil painting tying together its relationships to anatomy, biology and emerging sciences.

She attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA before receiving her BFA from California Institute of the Arts. Arabella’s work is in over 60 private collections, and she participates in solo and group exhibitions throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.

Her book The National Portrait Gallery of Kessa: The Art of Arabella Proffer was published in 2011 by Cooperative Press. She was awarded an Ohio Arts Council grant in 2016, and an Akron Soul Train Fellowship in 2018. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Plain Dealer, GOOD Magazine, Hi-Fructose, Juxtapoz, The Harvard Gazette, Scene Magazine, Snob, Hektoen International Medical Journal, Creative Minds in Medicine, and more.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and bred in Southern California, she and her husband live on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.


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