None other a luminary than my husband’s man crush, Eddie Vedder said, “It’s an art to live with pain.. mix the light into the grey.” Although I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that all artists must suffer in order to create great work, artists have long had a way of funneling hardships endured into their work. The result is often something extraordinary. When diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, Cleveland artist Arabella Proffer channelled the painful endurances of modern medical procedures into research of the remedies of the past. The result is a new series, The National Portrait Gallery of Kessa, a collection of paintings exploring the medical procedures and superstitions of the past.
Being in the midst of a Frida Kahlo biography, Arabella’s work immediately struck a chord with me. But these aren’t remade Kahlos. There may be a similarity in style and subject, but while Kahlo’s work dealt directly with her own experiences and emotions, Arabella instead chose to portray imaginary female subjects, creating not only a visual representation but a history and backstory for each.
From the artist: “After having a section of my leg removed, I began researching medicine from the Middle Ages through the 18th century; this series was a good way for me to work out my anger and be even more thankful that what I’m going through is nothing compared to old remedies and techniques. My art and interests were in the way society lived in the past, but with emphasis on the defiant, glamorous, and eccentric — not daily strife. You could have been rich, important, or beautiful, but if sick, you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment.”
This series, along with selected works from the Black Madonna series, are now on display in a solo exhibition, Ephemeral Antidotes at Articulated Gallery in San Francisco through February 3rd. If you’re not in the San Fran area, be sure to check out Arabella Proffer’s website for more of her work.
Featured image is a detail from Violets For Heart Veins, oil on linen, 16×20. All images are via that artist unless otherwise stated.