Medical Art and Memeography

Really happy to say that my essay on medical imaging and art was picked up by the medical humanities journal, Hektoen International.

VenusFramedAmputee

The Amputee Venus painting is one of the only paintings I chose to keep for myself. But, it will be on view at the renowned Zygote Press (along with a few other paintings from this series) for the Memeography group show opening Friday, June 19th. Curated by Bellamy Printz and Jennifer Finkel. “In a culture where social media and new channels create images that go viral, Memeography looks at contemporary uses of iconography—personal and political–and artists’ identifications with specific objects or concepts as a way to communicate a larger message.”

Motivational Talk: Radio Guest on LoLo Knows

If you ever wanted hear me blab about the music industry, art, Joan Crawford, my awesome husband, and why after everything I’ve been through medically I just suck it up (despite a cat sitting on my catheter bag), well then, you are in luck! I was invited to co-host on motivational talk show LoLoKnows earlier this week. Fair warning, I swear a lot! I guess you could say my version of motivational talk is to tell people to get on with it, and just deal. Otherwise, you are wasting your own time.

Want to know more about the painting series we are talking about? Grab a copy of this baby and get their bios as well…

Ephemeral Antidotes: Arabella Proffer

Ephemeral Antidotes: Arabella Proffer

A 2012 catalogue of paintings dealing with faith and medical history. Fictitious portraits, and their stories, written by artist Arabella Proffer.

Find out more on MagCloud

Speaking of this series, I saw my primary care doctor for the first time in a while — just for a cold — and he mentioned seeing this exhibit in Cleveland by accident. He did full on hand flail EW jestures as he said, “it was interesting….so did you sell any of those?” When I told him I have almost sold it out and the first pieces to go were on skin diseases, he said, “yuck! eeeeeeewwwww”. Then, he proceeded to look deep into my blood clogged nose. I’m so confused right now. I guess this is why he never became a surgeon?

Art in Medical Arts: Show It, Don’t Tell It

Studying anatomy was never something that I took seriously or practiced much in art school. In fact, I kind of sucked at it. So as a result I’ve gone with a very mannerist approach with distorting anatomy of my figures here and there.  It is all very strange, considering my new fascination the last four years is with detailed and gorgeous medical illustrations of the 17th and 18th centuries. They reveal what fragile beings we truly are, and yet the macabre and gruesome nature of the subject is surrounded by baroque columns and fussy drapery worthy of an aristocratic country house. Although they might be gorgeous, these illustrations were meant only for an elite set of physicians, not the patient. Today, technology has made it easier for patients to have a doctor show them what is happening, not just tell them. This is especially helpful for someone like myself, who thinks in pictures, not words.

GautierD'Agoty_AnatomyOfAWoman'sSpine

My work changed drastically in two ways in 2010. The first was when I found myself creating surreal biomorphic organisms. 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 a tumor that had grown tentacles crawling through my body at an alarming rate. When my doctor showed me the scans, it looked almost identical to what I had been painting – tentacles and all. In the process of being treated for what was a rare and aggressive cancer, I wondered what it would have been like to endure the cures and surgeries of the past — especially as a women. Here at Cleveland Clinic I got used to being poked, prodded, getting naked, and having fingers in…well, all the places you could imagine! But, a few centuries ago if I were a woman of means, doctors wouldn’t dare do such things except a very superficial examination. Modesty over accuracy.

After having a chunk of my leg removed — as well as some interesting restructuring– my work changed a second way. I began researching medicine from the Middle Ages onward; finding paintings that showed even the “cure” for my particular cancer was still amputation. Artwork depicting Saints Cosmas and Damian were the first I came upon, and none of it was reassuring. This all bred a series which I called “Ephemeral Antidotes” was a good way for me to work out my anger and be even more thankful that what I was going through is nothing compared to old remedies and techniques. It makes one wonder which medical practices today will be viewed as cruel and obscene to future generations. Will we be lambasted in 20 years for chemotherapy? It is injecting poison directly into a person’s veins, after all, so how is that different from the doses of mercury people took for syphilis? The emotional content was too much to resist.

valverde

Both series bring together a new interest in medical illustration, microbiology, disease, and the evolution of cells. I explore the particular roles that organisms, medicine, DNA, and hybrids play, all while creating from my own imagination and instinct. I have since painted yet more tissues and masses that resemble what is found to be growing inside me; perhaps this is a bizarre way of attempting to control the cells and viruses in my body.

Transforming those emotional impressions and having it stare back at me on an MRI has been quite an experience and highlights the importance of images for both medical professionals and patients. What the patient says is the truth, might not be what the body reveals as the truth. Perhaps this is why more medical schools are looking at applicants with artistic skills such as drawing and painting? Medical illustration has enlightened us that the human body is a machine; enzymes, cells, viruses, and tissues. I don’t know if each of these entities has a mind of its own, but I have learned to look objectively and be slightly detached when it comes to the viewing of human bodies and their inner workings; it lessens the rage I feel at times whenever my health takes a bad turn (a regular occurance these days), and helps me to understand my own body better. This is especially useful when I come upon an imaging tech who assumes I don’t know what I’m looking at. In fact, these days I’m often asked if I work in radiology, or am a nurse myself.

medbooks
A new section of my library is forming.

Once my surgeons and oncologists learned I was an artist, they steered away from saying in words what was happening to me in too much detail. Instead, they say, “Come over I want to show you these images because I know you’ll understand.” And it is true, it will be something I spot right away but would have been difficult to explain over the phone.

By the way, after all these years painting people and looking at medical art, I still suck at anatomy.

albinus-musculorum-tabula-vii

Snaps from the Reception at BAYarts

I have to say I think that was the most packed art reception I ever had! I didn’t think so many people would come out (all the way to the westside) let alone in the rain, but there we had it! My pals K&G even flew in all the way from San Francisco and we had a fun little weekend out of it. So, thank you all who came and supported me, you know I don’t get mushy about stuff but it meant a lot on light of the events that happened this month! Honestly, at one point I was considered cancelling the show or putting it off until next year — I’m glad I didn’t.

The art talk went pretty well considering I have only done one carefully timed Pecha Kucha talk before. I think I meandered a bit in the beginning and I remember using the words “whore” a lot, but that’s why I said it was NC-17, after all! The really nice thing about the talk were the current/former Cleveland Clinic employees and those married to them all wondering why the Cleveland Clinic didn’t sponsor this show, but mainly, why haven’t I been invited to speak there? I think it wasn’t just because of the medical history points, but the fact that I am a patient there and some of the later works reflected my state of mind why regard to that whole process. Stay tuned!

Anyway, here is a mishmash of photos myself and others were able to get in the flurry of activity. I was just excited to wear high heels for the first time in a year…

The show is up until April 25th at BAYarts, minus one painting I let be taken off the wall because it was a time sensitive birthday gift. I’ll be posting all the work and the new stories eventually here and on my website.

Down To the Wire!

I finished the paintings and the stories!

I could still spend another few weeks “correcting” and tweaking them, but I guess that won’t be happening. I have never, ever, worked this close up to a show. I don’t like the feeling at all! Good thing I use Gamvar varnish that dries quickly.

Big thanks to CoolCleveland.com for the interview, and The Plain Dealer for the highlight on the show opening this Friday! And, if you are not able to make it to the opening reception, never fear, as I will be giving a gallery talk on Wednesday the 9th which is sure to be entertaining. I’m considering getting a skull cake for it (or maybe a heart or a spleen), but we’ll see.

Syph75

“In Scorpio” 20×20 inches oil on linen.

 

Medical Themed Art Show in Cleveland

I’m pleased to announce my next solo show is April 4th at BAYarts! I have been teaching kids classes at the beautiful BAYarts campus in Bay Village for several years now, so I’m really excited to be exhibiting there. This exhibit will depict fun stuff like amputees, ocular prosthesis, virgin goddesses, and maybe a nude or two. The irony is that I’ve been having health problems, again, and I’m due for another surgery as I’m trying to get work done for this exhibition — so it might not have as many pieces as I had planned originally. However, this is my first big solo show in Ohio since 2009, so I hope you’ll join me. Facebook invite here.

“Ephemeral Antidotes: Revisited”

April 4th – 25th, 2014

Sullivan Family Gallery @ BAYarts, Bay Village, Ohio

Opening Reception: Friday, April 4th 7pm – 9pm

TheQueen75

In 2010 Arabella Proffer was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, and in the process of being treated, she discovered a 16th century painting of Saints Cosmas and Damian where it appeared the “cure” for her particular ailment had changed little. The result of the traumatic experience of having a section of her leg removed gave way to a new fervent interest in medical history, and is chronicled in the afflictions of her fictional female portraits.

After discovering the Dittrick Museum of Medical History was located in Cleveland she spent time doing research, and attending lectures there, that would help fuel inspiration for ways to combine this new fascination with her art. “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. You could have been rich, important, or beautiful, but if sick you would still receive brutal or worthless treatment,” says Proffer, “but I also fell in love with old medical illustrations; they somehow made gorgeous artwork even though it depicts amputation and syphilis.”

“Ephemeral Antidotes: Revisited” explores the medical superstitions and practices of centuries past with a touch of magic realism. Continuing the theme from her 2012 solo show that took place at Loved to Death, in San Francisco, the subjects in her paintings are accompanied by a biography — all written by Proffer — highlighting the fascinating and misguided aspects of old medicine. Proffer takes inspiration from old world mannerist portraiture and medical illustrations of the 14th and 15th centuries while weaving in her own contemporary punk and goth sensibility. Done in oil on linen, her stylized subjects are bold and colorful, yet reveal a hint of the sinister.

Described as everything from neorealism to pop surrealism, her work touches on themes of identity, history, rebellion, and refinement. Earning her BFA from California Institute of the Arts, Arabella Proffer has participated in group and solo exhibitions throughout North America, Europe, parts of the Middle East, and Australia. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she has taken up residence in Laguna Beach (she went to high school there, thankfully, before the reality show), Boston, Los Angeles, and currently works from her studio in Lakewood, Ohio.

Gallery talk Wednesday, April 9th 6:30pm – 7:30pm

DicephalicTwins

One Of My Favorite Places

I’d like to mention a fun gift for any doctors, history nerds, or the plain morbidly curious people on your gift list. A membership to the Dittrick Museum

Medical-museums-book

At the Friend level you get this sweet book. Even my husband was like ‘woa this book is nice!’ and he’s not even into that kind of thing. But seriously, if you are a fan of even places like Trundle Manor, Loved to Death, Morbid Anatomy, the Natural History Museum, or anything of that sort — I think you will dig it.

As many people know, I have a great affinity for this museum and their lecture series. I began going after my whole cancer to-so and was doing research for my Ephemeral Antidotes series (the second part opens in April 2014) and it grew from there. There’s still a lot to see in the archives and in the book collection; I’ll get around to one of these days. I had no idea this museum even existed, let alone that it was right there in University Circle across from Severance Hall!

Recently, I was asked to be part of a small community outreach committee for the museum, which I’m honored and very excited about! Let’s just say we’ve got some really fun and interesting events and ideas coming to fruition. As I have preached to many people, it’s a fabulous night out for the lectures, but taking a day to go throughout the collections is a history buff’s paradise.

Forceps, Stethoscopes, and Ivory Babies

What are some of the things I do on weekdays? Well, go to the Dittrick Medical History Center, of course. I’m gearing up for my next solo show, and although I know what I’m going to do as far as the medical history inspiration, one can never have done enough research. For the show my area of focus will be the 1400s to maybe the late 1600s, I find it all so fascinating, and it makes me feel better about the annoying scans and procedures I continue to go through at Cleveland Clinic.

I might have  missed her talk (which is available here) but I got a nice little private tour of the new exhibit having to do with birth from Dr. Brandy Schillace. Did you know that midwives will lose their license if they even touch a pair of forceps? Today? Because I sure didn’t.

DSC05761

Paper woman…

DSC05762

Ivory anatomy ladies and their tiny babies. Such beauties…

DSC05764

DSC05771

DSC05765

A week later I attended the opening of the mezzanine exhibit, the M. Donald Blaufox Hall of Diagnostic Instruments, which was donated by Dr. Blaufox after years of extensive collecting.  The opening was paired with a lecture by Joel D. Howell, M.D. which primarily focused on stethoscopes, and how one tool changed the practice of medicine.

DSC05769

DSC05768

(go to the actual exhibit if you can, I took these rather quickly)

DSC05767

DSC05766

You can listen the entire lecture recording here. It’s very interesting to hear from doctors, nurses, and med students about how talking to a patient has been trumped in many ways by just reading test results. As for the question of what things we are doing now that people in the future will look back on and say is silly? I think chemotherapy will be the top practice that future generations will go, “what there they thinking?! That’s terrible!”

By the way, go and visit the Dittrick Blog!

Ephemeral Antidotes: The Whole Collection

Here’s the whole shebang! The opening reception for the show was pretty awesome and the look and feel of the whole thing was highly appropriate at Loved To Death/Articulated Gallery. It was so amazing to have so much family and friends there, not to mention collectors I had yet to meet, and even some old friends and classmates I hadn’t seen in 12+ years.

You can purchase all of these works thru them at info@lovedtodeath.net All work is framed, 5×7″ paintings are $250 and all 16×20″ are $1200. (several are sold so be sure to check with them)

“Stabby Rainbow Heart” 5×7″ oil on panel

“Black Madonna” 5×7″ oil on panel

“Queen of the Fucking World” 5×7″ oil on panel

“La Madonna” 5×7″ oil on panel

“Black Madonna 2″ 5×7” (framed) oil on panel

“Black Madonna 2”

And here are my girls with biographies I wrote for them. I should state again — because people get confused — none of these incidents are real. The methods are real, but these women never existed. My brain, it makes things up!

“Blind Deviant” 16×20″ oil on linen

Diana

The daughter of a baker, Diana spent her childhood in the markets peddling goods and taking care of her mother. There were no entertainments, no leisure, but this she did not mind. As her eyes began to cloud, the blindness set in as she grew into a striking and provocative figure. The people said her blindness was punishment; she pleasured herself too much, she lent herself to men, that God only blinds those who are perverted. Sensing not a drop of vulgarity in Diana, an old woman from the market knew of ways to improve eyesight. Tea made from the gallbladder of a nightingale, drops of it unto the eyelashes, and satchels with feathers to carry. She took Diana to the church to be cured, but not holy water, rose water, or prayers could change her vision. Politely declining the offers of a needle or knife to her eyes, she consigned herself to her father’s bakery, in the basement ovens away from the public. No one wanted to buy tainted bread from a sexual deviant.

“Carriers and Transference” 16×20″ oil on linen

Vita

When the plague arrived in the town of Loxi, the landowners and merchants fled to their villas by the lake; assured that the purity of vast orchards and water would save them. The harbor was sealed, and fires were lit. As the town burned, young Vita, the chief magistrate’s daughter, grew diseased. Fleas were carried on the backs of rats and through the wind. Vita was bathed in rose water. She took it all in stride, receiving her meals locked in the attic while her bed sheets were boiled daily and lavender sprigs were chewed to ward off further infection. It was well known that several physicians had tried a successful method — first with a puppy, and then a frog — of transference. Vita’s favorite cat would do nicely, she was ordered to hold it to her stomach, and transfer the disease unto it. For 3 days she kept it close to her skin, but the cat did not inherit her sickness. And thus, little by little, the footsteps and voices of the home went quiet. The stillness would on occasion be broken by the flutter of leaves on the trees, the breeze on the waters, and the purrs of a black cat.

“Carriers” detail

“Daughters of Maternal Impression” 16×20″ oil on linen.

Marie and Helen

Born as dicephalic parapagus twins into an aristocratic family boasting dynastic continuity (their fortunes, sadly, had not continued as such) the doctors proclaimed they were an unfortunate result of maternal impression: their mother attended a public hanging while pregnant and surely this was the cause of such bizarre monstrosity. While still infants, their mother tried to cut them apart with shears, but this was futile, it was learned, as the girls shared too many bones. As Marie and Helen grew into beauties, word had spread by pilgrims and curious travelers of the two-headed woman. What better way to renew lost family fortunes than to put it on display? This was under the guise of friendly and social intercourse, as well as economics. Their fame grew, as did their wardrobes and estates. Marriage was proposed many times over, but nothing would come of it, and the twins preferred it as such. They became a glittering showpiece, stars of the stage rather than carnival attraction.  They died at the age of 28; physicians theorized it was due to their body containing too little blood for both beings to carry on.

“Violets for Heart Veins” 16×20″ oil on linen.

Lana

The spoiled and somewhat devious daughter of a provincial magnate, her coughing fits and coloring were said to have been caused by her 5 uncles incessant smoking. Lana inherited her mother’s chest pains, but this the good doctor knew how to handle: smoke of burnt chicken feathers; a diet of radishes, or radishes rubbed on the skin; and teas made from violets. When the symptoms persisted – irritating her uncles who were now forbade to smoke – a surgeon said to have studied The Hippocratic Corpus, was called upon. Administering violets direct to the veins leading to the heart, he assured the family it would have a calming effect. Lana would perish not a month later, the product of a botched surgery, with flower petals lodged in her chest and much blood lost. The surgeon then conceded he had only skimmed The Hippocratic Corpus.

“Skin of the Fox Cures the Pox” 16×20″ oil on linen.

Mary

Believing that abundance was a breeding ground for boredom, she resorted to simplify her life when her parents had passed on, leaving her a modest house and income. Opting for an existence of piety, Mary had all the furniture and objects cleared away, until, ‘nothing but surfaces of stone, wood, and few linen sheets remained’ according to the housekeeper. It was anyone’s guess how she contracted small pox in this environment. The servant’s child? A beggar? The priest? When tinctures of yarrow flower did no good, a cure of wolf skin wrapped around the infected areas was ordered. Believing this to be too decadent, Mary opted for a fox instead. It was not the flies or the raw infection that caused her death only days later, but simply a case of bronchitis. The wise women of the town shook their heads, ‘she should have chosen the wolf skin!’

“Sawed” 16×20″ oil on linen.

Gretchen

An ambassador’s daughter with a passion for collecting, Gretchen’s menagerie was near complete when her father brought her the gift of a leopard cub from his travels. It was a sweet little thing, soft and playful, abiding to his mistress when she dressed it up in clothes meant for little boys. But, even the smallest of creatures will start to give in to their nature. It was thought that a flock of geese had spooked him during a game of fetch on the lawns. Gretchen was adamant the leopard knew not what he did, that his claws were bigger than his wits when he mauled her at the legs, dragging her before his final release. No potions, no humours, no herbs or witchcraft could save her. The legs would come off, and all one could do was pray. Pray for the surgeon, pray for the tools, and pray she did not die from enduring it all. Gretchen would never be the same after that, lost to a world of darkness and time, languishing in bed, never speaking a word except a whisper to her pets.