Science and Surrealism

A few books I’m reading, and some paintings I’m painting.






The irony is not lost on me that I went in for a consultation about an elective surgery, and now, it’s turned into a very needed oncology surgery — all while prepping for this show. It’s been a sucky week thus far, and yet I’m not bothered by pictures of anatomy and cadavers. I don’t know what else to do, really.

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


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


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.


Paper woman…


Ivory anatomy ladies and their tiny babies. Such beauties…




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.



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



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!

Me in 2013, My Dad in 1983

My surgeon never calls me unless it is something…important. Bad important. He called me on Monday and said he couldn’t explain over the phone, but I had to come in right away to get more x-rays and so he could show me in person what he was talking about. After my MRI that went wrong (torn vein + allergic reaction), the results came back. The are unsettling to say the least.

I could see it on the x-rays before he even said what it was. I have a hole in the lateral cortex of my femur, it looked about an inch long. It looked like a dark lesion, and it is about where the tumor was taken over 2 years ago. It appeared out of nowhere — like everything else — since my last x-ray in the fall. But the hole isn’t the part that is unsettling, it is what is inside of it. A white dot. It isn’t communicating with the outside and they have no idea what it is. Several meetings, a dozen other experts, and more radiology opinions — no one knows what the hell it is! My surgeon/oncologist doesn’t like not being able to explain what something is!

I am staying off the leg as much as possible (I knew it was fragile, but Jeez) and am prepping for a procedure to have them go in and see what the white dot is. A biopsy-like thing, but not quite, since there is nothing that they can take to put under a microscope. I’ll get put under while they poke through my bone and see what this thing is. I was told it would be benign, but I heard that before, remember?

This has set me off into a depression and freak-out that has already caused a chunk of my eyebrows to fall out; I missed a lot of events this week, have had a cold for 2 weeks, and to top it off a funeral planning service called me at home not 30 minutes after I got the news! Until they go into my leg, however, I can only wait. If this is something that keeps occurring I know that full amputation isn’t far off.

Below is a CBS piece on  my dad and his battle with cancer, that also came quick. It’s my TV debut at age five! I wish I could tell you it had a happy ending.

Attitude and Cancer? I’ll Take Science

One thing that has irritated me for the past few years is when I get advice or remarks from people about how “mind over matter” or holistic approaches may have/may aid in all the cancer bullshit I’ve had.

I’m currently waiting for my DNA results (no, unlike the movies you have to wait 6 weeks) to see what the diagnosis is with which syndrome I have. My mom and I already know, but doctors need it to assess the situation as far as my continued care. I’m already needing an organ removed as a precaution, and other complications have popped up that will always have to be monitored. It’s a DNA issue all around; it was pre-programmed, and getting cancer was going to happen to me no matter how I tried to avoid it.

As well meaning as it may sound, flippant remarks and pontification with regard to someone who has a pretty severe case of an advanced disease is just plain idiotic. I’d like it stop. That my “good attitude” saved me, that “God” had something to do with it; that maybe I got cancer because I smoked, drank, did drugs in high school and college. Keith Richards says you are wrong. Maybe I ate too much processed foods, too much meat, or my milk had additives. Monsanto didn’t give me liposarcoma! When I get people telling me, “I hear coffee helps prevent cancer” or “tomatoes are supposed to help fight cancer” I want to smack them with a 2×4. Listen, I eat tomatoes almost every fucking day (it’s weird, I have a thing for tomatoes), and I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 21. So no, it didn’t help. Acupuncture, ginger root, reiki and all of the crap that the Whole Foods going crowd tells me to do? Guess what, I had it all done at some point in time. It doesn’t now — nor did it then — aid in fighting cancer cells. I’m not going to go and spend money I don’t have (thanks to medical bills) on your Chinese medicine hoo-ha or color therapy practitioner in hopes it will stave off anything. It won’t. I actually had someone tell me I should try to avoid radiation because it was *bad for me* and try a more holistic approach. Clearly this person was an idiot with no understanding about aggressive cancers, and they didn’t seem to get that having a massive tumor with tentacles crawling through my leg, then dying, was also bad for me. “Maybe you should meditate”, no I’m pretty sure wine helped me not have a freak-out during my treatments. It was either that or Xanax, and my oncologist said wine was an awesome choice.

A sense of humor and a sassy attitude didn’t save me. In fact, I’m pretty sure timing, lasers, the top surgeon in the world for my case, and SCIENCE saved me. Attitude had nothing to do with it. Radiation and slicing me open = winning! In fact doctors kept telling me youth was a major factor as well.

So the next person who tells me about their herbalist, or an article they read in some stupid magazine about what foods I should be eating? Well, they can suck it. Would you tell someone with a broken spine to drink mint tea and get their chakras aligned? No.

Viva la SCIENCE!

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 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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


To hell with it, here’s another piece for my show “Ephemeral Antidotes” coming up at Articulated Gallery. This is her little story I wrote as well…

“Sawed” 16×20″ oil on linen


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 same after that, lost to a world of darkness and time, languishing in bed, not speaking a word except a whisper to her pets.

In her frame…

Beware the Female Imagination

The other night, I learned the origin of this image that has appeared and changed over centuries in Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The hairy woman, and the black baby. Although originally having nothing to do with each other aside from illustrating the dangers of maternal imagination, they were together on a single woodcut on accident, and thus, have always stayed together until later editions when a black baby meant something very different in America than in Europe. The lady loses the hair eventually, too.

Maternal impression or imagination was the theory that a baby would, or could, look like something the mother imagines or sees. So, if the mother saw something traumatic or awful while pregnant, it would manifest itself onto the baby. This is why pregnant women were told not to go to executions and avoid unpleasant sights as a rule. The book actually tells you how to trick your husband if you are with a lover; just imagine your husband while you are having sex, and then, the baby will still look like your husband. Easy! Here are some babies where the mother had nightmares or saw something terrible….

Any inherited diseases or mutations always got blamed on the mother, of course. Or it was an act of God to punish the mother for some misdeed. Whatever the case, a woman’s imagination is a powerful and dangerous thing that has to be kept in check, otherwise, bad things happen. This book was still in publication until the 1930s and mostly unaltered. In fact, there is some evidence it was still being published into the late 1940s. This is what your grandmothers and every woman before her had to read in order to learn about reproduction and child care. I wonder how people will laugh at our current medical literature in the next few centuries?

Short Trip to the Museum of Medical History

My friend Dott and I went to the Museum of Medical History on the Case Western Reserve campus. It has hours that are weird, and the rare books section was by appointment (bah) but we are both very fast when it comes to museums so an hour was all we needed. We do plan on going to this talk, however. Just in time for Halloween!

The building and libraries remind me of places around the Harvard University campus.The museum it self is very small, but the research and archives look to be quite vast. The main exhibit was on contraception and all things related to baby-making. The other exhibits looked like they were in flux, half finished or being moved, but we still saw some cool things and learned interesting facts. Did you know that to drink tea made from a Beaver’s gall bladder (among other parts) was supposed to be a baby blocker? Yep, it’s true.

Here are some photos…

I thought we should start bringing newspapers and brandy, and transform it into our own little club like the men’s clubs of London and New York in the “olden days”….except surrounded by microscopes. We also saw a slide show of old watercolor illustrations from France telling you exactly what will happen if you young men beat your meat too much! Coughing up blood, losing use of your legs, and rotting teeth are just a few of the symptoms, FYI. Also, syphilis is bad…

I need to go back again, the library alone is worth it. Totally geeked out there’s a picture of Babe Paley’s dad, Dr. Cushing, hanging up there, too.