My work changed drastically one day in 2010 when I found myself creating surreal organic environments. Although I started from a place of abstraction, they 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, and close-ups of the cells, it looked almost identical to what I had been painting – tentacles and all. A new fascination with the macro universe and micro universe was born. This was a major departure for me after 12 years of exhibiting as Pop Surrealist portrait artist, with a mild obsession with European aristocracy, medical history, and the Old Masters.
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. 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 – what about 10 million years later?
I’m mostly concerned with answering these questions for myself. I don’t like to analyze or diagnose 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. This is my biomorphic garden party.
As of this past September I am now 7 years out from my initial cancer removal surgery. I am still under the thumb of the US healthcare system due to subsequent procedures and surgeries that were related to my cancer, but my liposarcoma has not returned in any of the places it should have. It’s also almost 8 years since I began the series that changed my whole art game.
I still look over my shoulder, but not quite as often. I even learned how to go down a flight of stairs for the first time in 7 years! I’ve done a lot of genetic counseling and DNA testing, appeared in a few medical journal due to my anomalies, but no explanation or markers have been found. Maybe one day another test subject will be found, or it will be called “Proffer syndrome” after my dad and myself. I don’t consider “cancer-free” to mean that it isn’t still inside me (I was told it is) but that I am far out enough now to not go into a complete PTSD meltdown the second I find something a little off or don’t feel well. That maybe it will always be in me but won’t wake up again from the dormant slumber and create new tumors; new creatures finding their way through me again. Maybe someday a cure will be found.
by Arabella Proffer