Akron Soul Train Artist-In-Residence

For the month of March I am excited to say that have been granted an Akron Soul Train fellowship!

I am creating works for a show taking place in Akron, Ohio, later in May, in addition to giving a talk at Crave on Thursday, March 21st. If you would like to attend please register as space is limited.

Surrealist painting by Arabella Proffer

I will be continuing my biomorphic series and talking about my journey from animation and portraiture, to how being diagnosed with cancer changed the direction of my paintings.

This week I will also be doing an Instagram and Twitter takeover for Akron Soul Train so you can dig my process and then some.

Ceci n’est pas une Nipple

The topic of censorship has come up for me recently. Let’s just say that a nude I did with her boobies showing, combined with the phrases ” it is very inappropriate” and “families read this publication” happened. Although I knew this would probably be the case I thought, maybe, just maybe they’d be cool. This was not the case.

The first time I got one of my nude paintings censored, so to speak, was at Laguna Beach High School when my teacher hung it in the art room. I came back the next day to find a string of toilet paper across the area where the lone nipple was visible. I guess the principle said he didn’t want the 9th grade boys to get too “excited”. At my high school back in Ann Arbor, they showed my nude pieces quite often, as well as the Ann Arbor Art Association, so this was a new thing for me. After all, the mascot for Laguna Beach HS was the “Artists”. Later, I was told it could not be published in the high school year book — even though my teacher pushed for it — again it was deemed inappropriate. We had a major meth epidemic at Laguna Beach HS that was never addressed, but you can’t go showing students a nipple.

When I moved to Dana Point for my senior year, same problems, different school. My nude works were banned from being shown in the common areas of the school in display cases. They were inappropriate. I found this hilarious, when you consider we had at least 3 teen parents at our school; two girls were currently knocked up, and I took one of the cheerleaders to buy a pregnancy test so she could take it my house without her parents finding out. So yes, representations of titties in acrylic were to be censored, despite the fact many students CLEARLY knew how bang some genitals together to make a baby!

A gallery in Dana Point also asked me not to show my nudes because “it wasn’t Christian”, so you know, all those nude works by Renaissance artists must be smut over in Vatican City. She was concerned because I was a 17 year old girl doing these paintings of naked women and I painted their nipples different colors. She was also incredibly annoyed the sexy lingerie store next door shared her parking lot. They sold, “leather undergarments” you guys!

The final straw was when I tried to curate a group show at Artcore in downtown Los Angeles. It was to be me, Tara McPherson, Louie Metz, Staci Lande, and a few others. The woman who ran the gallery didn’t want nudity. A downtown Los Angeles gallery, not wanting nudity? The board members tried to reason with her, but it was no use. This was on top of many other conditions she decided to set, like no satire and no sarcasm. That show didn’t happen, obviously.

It was strange to me, all these galleries in Laguna Beach and even Los Angeles refusing to show nudes, because they were inappropriate and indecent; and yet the people who set out these rules loved works by Botticelli and Michelangelo. I started drawing nudes when I was eleven years old! So what does that mean? I grew up with a lot of nude artwork in our home, and no, it didn’t turn me into a deviant. I did that on my own, thank you very much!

Up until now the last bit of censorship I had was in 2009. NBC Washington was promoting the show I had at Art Whino Gallery. They used the image of this painting below, but instead of putting a black bar across the nipples, they put a dark purple bar across them! Hey, at least whoever was told to do it had a sense of humor. I still don’t get why NBC didn’t just use another image, but hey, it was pretty funny!

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The Pond

I know the Instagram police take down any artwork with nipples showing. I think only recently was it ruled that a representation of nipples was okay, but that doesn’t stop the strangest of people from reporting or flagging the content; and I’m guessing those are the same people who claim to be art lovers? It’s also the same people who get offended by everything (which seems more often these days online). I think we can all agree there are more important things going on in this big wide world we should be offended by.

I’m curious to know how other people have had their work censored? Was it a gallery, print publication, or something else?

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing: IMMA GURL ARTIST HALP

surrealist painting by Arabella Proffer

I was talking to Paula, the bassist of one of my favorite current bands, September Girls. A drunken guest had just been thrown out of my husband’s book party for various reasons; mainly that at one point after expressing to guests he was a fan of September Girls, he walked up to two of them and said flatly, “you looked like shit on stage last time I saw you”.

Something as harsh as this wasn’t what they were used to, however, Paula said all too often they did indeed get male fans who would almost always say, “Hey your band is great! But, you know what you should do…” because OBVIOUSLY when you are an all-female group you must need help and unsolicited advise from a man. Never mind they are more successful and have a farther reach than many all-male bands in Ireland right now — they’re women in a band, hence they must not know what they are doing. Never mind women get marginalized and treated like fuck dolls, imbeciles, or little girls in the music industry no matter what — they need a man to manage them. They need a man to help them navigate because IMMA GURL HALP PLEEZ and they must be winging it up until now. They could do so much better if only they had some help. Right?

It must have been something I blocked out, or something I just got used to. Maybe I was trying to be polite or assumed they were dumb so I just kept my mouth shut instead of getting nasty about it? “Your work is great! But you know what you should do…” is something I have heard from a ridiculous number of men with regard to my art-making practices and anything to do with my career. I guess I really did just get used to it. In fact, this was how they made conversation. But, now that I’ve registered more women saying it happens to them, I know it was a way of talking down to me. A way to show that they knew more about something than I did. I’m not saying every man has done this — of course not — but the percentage that have is pretty damn high.

Backhanded compliments, micro-aggressions, mansplaining, whatever you want to call it.

They take place in my studio when it has been open to the public; at my solo shows where work is selling; at group shows with other artists; at public art-making events or charities; online in group discussions; in an email that was unsolicited; in front of my husband, best friend, gallery owner, collector, or my parents. It happens at parties when I first meet someone and I tell him I’m an artist (oh those can be precious). It happens when someone I don’t know well sees that other acquaintances buy my work, and then they go on about how they want to commission a work of mine while simultaneously telling me what I need to do to be a famous/rich artist despite the fact they have NO experience or history in working in the realm of art.

And by the way, I can read people real damn quick when it comes to saying they want to commission a work. I’ve been doing it long enough I can tell who is serious and who is full of it — usually because they are showing off.

Hey I’m all for advice, when it really is that. I have male artists friends who tell me about cool products and stuff I should check out, or galleries and all that. Those are the men who aren’t out to try and prove they know more than me, insult me, or actually do work in my field and know me well enough that the advice or statements they make are helpful. They also don’t assume I’m a dummy.

I’ve heard many things. So many I can’t recall them all. Dumb things. Yet, the assumption is always I don’t know what I’m doing:

“Your prices are too high.”

“You should make your prices higher if you want to succeed.” (say that a little louder with the gallery director standing right there)

“You should do some social media.”

“You should get a publicist, I know a guy, he works with a lot of art types.”

“Your work doesn’t look as muddy in person.”

“You’re the one who does those Disney big-eye paintings. Yeah, I know who you are.” (What the living fuck?)

“You really should mold your contrasts more.” (I don’t think he knew what that meant)

“You should look up Hi Fructose Magazine.” “Yes, I’ve taken ads out with them and they feature my work on their website periodically.” “Oh.”

“You should read Juxtapoz Magazine.” “Yes I’ve been featured on their site many times and my friends are in it often, but since Complex Media bought them out I don’t look at it as often.” “Oh.”

“That’s not oil, that’s acrylic — I can TELL.” (the painting was in oil and I was sitting right there and he didn’t bother to talk to me in my own studio)

“Well, that’s certainly…interesting.” (blows nose into snotty tissue and drops it on my studio floor as he walks out)

“Have you ever thought of doing commissions?” “Yes I’ve been doing them since I was 16” “Oh, but like real ones? Like mayors and judges?” (I think my facial expression told him everything)

“You should do velvet paintings.” “Those are awful, why would I do that?” “Because people really like buying those.”

“You should show in galleries.” “Thanks, I do, all over the US, and Israel, and Australia.” “Oh well I guess you have it all figured out, huh?”

“Have you ever thought of submitting to galleries?” “Yes I’ve actually been showing in them for a long time.” “No I know, but like, real ones.”

“Yeah, I could tell you use different oil paint brands in one painting. Weird. Huh.” (what the living fuck?)

“You should take out advertising in Art in America or something.” “Well, that’s not my audience and some of those ads are $5-10K” “Oh.”

“Nice work. But, you should come to my art show tonight, it’s just right down the street and a couple blocks over.” (I was right in the middle of my own solo show opening reception)

“These are nice but I don’t know if I’d frame them like that.” (It was the opening reception and I sold two of them)

“You should try painting on linen/canvas/panel. I bet it would look really nice.” (I work on all of these)

“You should show your work in Los Angeles. You’d sell a lot there.” “I do show there. I’m from Los Angeles.”

“Your work is too slick. You shouldn’t make it so slick.”

“I could tell a woman painted these. It’s so obvious.”

“I saw the article about you. That was a really weird combination of your work they chose.”

“The guy you have taking your artwork photos is really good.” “I take all my own photos, thanks.” “Oh really? Isn’t that something.”

“Have you ever thought of doing this professionally?”

“You should sell your paintings on Etsy. My wife sells her handmade soaps on there.”

“You should make prints of that.” “I have them, here’s where to purchase them.” (Spoiler Alert: doesn’t buy print!)

“Do you know an artist by the name of… [pick a name of any male artist ever in the history of time and insert].” “Why yes, I have a book on him.” “Oh, well, yes I thought I’d tell you about him, but I guess you already know of him.”

“Do you know [insert current female artist]? Her work is okay, but she’s hot!”

“I bet you like Frida Kahlo a lot.” “Actually, I don’t. I never got into her.” “Oh, I thought all women liked her. That’s strange!”

These things would never get said to a man in the tone they get said to me. And I don’t go up to writers at book signings and get all, “Hey! You ever heard of this guy Hemingway? You’d like him because dudes like him!” or “You know what you should do? Have you ever thought of getting a publisher?” when I’m at a book store where the guy is signing books.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m sure there are more egregious examples my friends can attest to that I’ve blocked out of my memory. I’m sure many to do with my appearance as well. I’m lucky that the art scene I am lumped into has a large number of female artists who are supported in the media, by their male counterparts, curators and so on. I could be wrong, but within that scene alone, I feel like the amount of solo shows is almost evenly divided between men and women. Sadly the percentage of female solo shows at major art institutions, major galleries and fairs in hovering around 33% though it drops sometimes to 20%. The exception being the Venice Biennale at 50% in 2010. Ten years ago women made up more than 60% of the art school students in the USA, so aside from going into arts administration (which now is mainly women) I don’t know what to think.

And again, apologies to those men who are genuine fans of the band, artist, writer, and are smart and confident enough to not make these little digs. You guys are rad! I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, but this stuff gets built up over time and I’m done making excuses for dopes or rationalizing their behavior.

As with anything, think before you speak. If no one asked you for a suggestion or critique, don’t give it. Like a normal human. And, don’t assume that the first thought that pops in your head of how you would do something or do it different, hasn’t already been considered.

Tell me your thought or stories in the comments. I think I’m finally “grown ass lady” enough to start calling this stuff out when it happens again.

Why I Fired A Would-Be Collector

I don’t normally get public about this kind of thing, but a line really got crossed. If you know me, you know that takes quite a bit of effort.

For over a year I had marked this painting as sold. I’d only exhibited it once before at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.

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“Prada is Poetry” 14×18″, oil on canvas.

It seemed I found a perfect owner, we had a few mutual friends, and they went on a payment plan with me. I do this for just about everyone; I figured if Cleveland Clinic can do it for me why not do it for others? It has been great for all involved for several years, now. That is, until someone comes and ruins the party! How someone can bounce a check to me for a minimal amount, jerk me around, and then have the gall to keep it going for 8+ months? I don’t know. I almost sent the painting to this person when they had so little left owed on it — thankfully, the bank stopped that from happening. Try doing all of that with your plumber or mechanic. Why do people think this is okay to do with artists who run a business?

Anyway, I finally had enough since the value of all my work had gone up significantly this year, so I essentially “fired” this person since I had lost opportunities to exhibit this painting, and refunded them their money thus far. I’m glad I sent the refund certified mail, because it was forwarded on a whirlwind across the country to 3 different addresses and a P.O. Box that had been closed. Another red flag indeed. So, what kind of response do I get when the check finally made it to them and I said they don’t get the painting? Well according to this person, they are now caring for a sick aunt (which I don’t believe for 2 seconds) and then the kicker, “Having had cancer yourself I thought you would be more understanding”.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No really, let that sink in.

Yes, let’s throw cancer in my face as a final excuse for lack of responsibility and try to guilt me with it.

And this is supposed to make me WANT you to have my work?

Unreal.

So with that, if you or someone you know who is not a totally loathsome and questionable person would like to purchase this painting, get at me, she’s all yours for $1500.00. I’m not going to let one bad experience ruin it for everyone else. I want this painting to go to someone who deserves her.

My Top Art Making Weapons of Choice

I’m sure there’s more I can’t think of, but these are some of my favorite products for working in oil paint. Some of which I’m newer to in the last few years.

Gloves in a bottle. I has a tendency to blend oil paint with my fingers at times. Now that I’ve had cancer I figure I better cut that crap out! Well, this stuff makes it so I still can. I tried wearing gloves that I stole from my surgeon’s office — and wow — I don’t know how so many people work with them on. The sweaty nastiness of it all? No thanks!

bottlegloves

I’ve used Old Holland since high school and could always tell the difference between it, and others. It is expensive, so I only use it for certain colors and odd mixes. I’ve been told it is cheap crap marketed to Americans as being fancy, but I find the mix of pigment and oil to be a good balance. Winsor & Newton is always dependable  — not to oily or too solid. My other new jam is Williamsburg, although I’ve only gotten it in limited colors it has been quite nice. I don’t like Utrecht and Grumbacher.

Williamsburg_tube

Round brushes from Trekell. I beat the crap out of these style of brushes and normally they fray and split pretty quick. These are holding up better than I expected! So far I’m just using the round ones in Golden Taklon and Kolinksy; I’ll have to get their other styles and see how those do. I recently bought a jar of their gesso, but I have yet to try it.

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Hog bristle filberts. They are good for large areas — especially large works — because hog holds the paint better. I’m not too particular about the brand. For real, most artists are shocked by how few brushes I actually use. I look at their studios vs. mine and they have multiple jars full in every shape and form and size — while I have maybe 20, and most are never used.

Ampersand gessobord. No complaints here. Then again I work pretty small. Might not be good for really big stuff though, depending on how deep it is.

I’ve been looking at Baroque birch panels, but jeez they are so heavy! And if I’m shipping a painting or a whole group of them, the last thing I want is to be raped on shipping costs due to weight. As far as anything else goes for larger commissions, I have been using a lot of linen mounted on gatorfoam from New Traditions (thanks to Stanka Kordic for hipping me to them). Linen is something I only started working on in 2012 and I might not go back to canvas as a result. I know quite a few people who work at The Cleveland Museum of Art rolled their eyes when I told them I was going for the linen mounted on gatorfoam, but it seems like it can’t be any less archival than other nonsense I’ve seen. I guess I won’t be around 150 years from now to know how they held up! For the times when I can’t afford the New Traditions gatorfoam because I’m doing a show and need it in bulk, I turn to Centurion.

For works on paper, artist Christian van Minnen hipped me to the Arches oil paper. I love it so far, I’ve only done smaller work with it but am curious to see where it would take me on a larger scale.

ArchesOilPaperSheets

Since I’ve not been well and had multiple surgeries in a short span, I stopped going to the studio and have been working at home. With two cats. Thus, my glass palette wasn’t going to work. Thankfully I found the paper palette! I like that is has a grey tone for when I mix colors against it, and I don’t have to deal with the task of cleaning it over and over and over. I can even fold it and tuck it away in my paint case for when my cats decide to go snooping. Thanks cats!

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You know I love my blue shop towels. Less lint and crap than regular paper towels, and more absorbent. One sheet just to clean off brushes can go on for several sessions. It is the Quilted Northern toilet paper of towels!

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If you don’t have a Silicoil jar to clean your brushes, I don’t know what you are using. They made us buy these back in high school! In fact, I think mine is from when I was 16.

Gamvar Varnish. Accept no substitute! Gamblin were nice enough to send me a sample and I was hooked, especially for work done on canvas or linen. It is so wonderful.

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Baby table top easel. People kind of laugh when they see it, you probably expect a monster one when you walk into an artist’s studio (I have one but have used it maybe twice) and not this wee thing. My baby easel can fit things up to 18×24″ just fine.

A great website AMIEN with all sorts of information about varnishing, materials, and all the jazz they probably should teach you in art school in your first year — and don’t. Check it out!

What products are you using that you like? I always want to know.

8 Ways to Whore Your Art to Morons

Just finished reading this piece of poo from Phil Desind via Steve Doherty’s blog about 8 ways to sell art. Okay, I do agree with 6 – 8, but come on now, if people want your work they will buy it. Just because one person doesn’t like it, won’t mean another won’t dig it. If they don’t like what you do, then they aren’t the right person for your work and you shouldn’t feel bad about that at all. If you need to follow any of the steps in 1- 5 then you obviously don’t know who your audience is and you are sticking in shiny objects for the mere fact that you are a whore with technical skill. Seriously, the shiny objects bit in number 2 kills me. Oh and number 3 kills me all over again. Heck, 1 – 5 all kill me, go read it, seriously you’ll die laughing! Or if you are an artist, you’ll wonder if it is a joke like an article from The Onion, which most of my friends thought it was at first.

You shouldn’t make work a certain way just for the intention of trying to sell it to some idiot who wants it to match their couch! If you do, you aren’t an artist, you are making a product. A product for someone who doesn’t like to think too hard or is buying art because it makes them feel cultured; these are the people who buy a Thomas Kinkade painting in hopes of being able to sell it on Ebay in 15 years for a profit. Making a piece of art while following a guideline like this is so wrong to me on so many levels. Why constrict yourself like that? That is no different than following a fad or a genre of art that happens to be doing well at the moment, “gee I sure think Tiki themed art is lame, but it is what’s hot right now, so maybe I’ll go paint some tiki themed crap and hope it sells”. Yeah, have fun with that.

I should also point out that number 4 is a big lie as well. I grew up with some really fun heavy subject matter in the art collection of my parents. Angels and devils and surrealist craziness, I used to stare at them and marvel. “People don’t want to hang those kinds of paintings in their homes or offices. The pictures would depress them all day long,” says the article. Um, more like those pictures would freak people out and be full of awesome all day long! You know what depresses me? Pictures of fruit in a shiny bowl!

Again, just because one person doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean all people on the planet will hate it too. I hate Julian Schnabel, I also hate Keith Haring, and I’m pretty sure my dislike of those two artists hasn’t effected their sales. By the way, do you know how many people ask me if I have any work laying around with skulls in the subject matter? A LOT. Here is a painting I made of my fabulous Sabertooth Tiger skull….

SabercatSkullProffer

Artists make what they make; people like what they like. They find each other in an honest way, not by the artist impressing what they think people will like upon them.

And yes, skulls do sell, just like chicks dig scars.