“Arabella Proffer-Vendetta is a painter, designer, and co-founder of the indie label Elephant Stone Records. Her loose narrative themes revolve around a fascination with punk rock, aristocrats, Renaissance fashions, aging socialites, pre-code cinema, gothic divas and rock ‘n’ roll groupies. She attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA before receiving her BFA from California Institute of the Arts, and has participated in solo and group exhibitions throughout North America and Europe. Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, she has taken up residence in many cities including Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, and Boston. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband and an evil white cat named Milkshake.”
Please share your earliest memory involving or creating art.
Arabella Proffer: My parents had a pretty extensive Russian art collection — some really weird and tripped out stuff – so I always marveled at those, but supposedly I was two years old when I made a drawing of an eye with a landscape in the iris. I don’t remember that, but I was always drawing while watching cartoons while in pre-school.
May you share about your academic background concerning art? Did you study art formally? What were your art studies like in general– any influential instructors?
Arabella Proffer: I went to Art Center College of Design for 4 seconds, but got a better scholarship at California Institute of the Arts, so I went there to get my BFA. The clothing optional pool in the dorms sold me. I was in the art department, but I was mostly studying film and traditional animation. I didn’t start using oil paint until the last 3 weeks of school, so that part I would say is more self-taught. CalArts was more about theory than practice; at the time painting was “dead” and it was all about video and installation art. Luckily we had people like Jim Shaw, John Mandel, and Derek Boshier who still taught traditional art. In general I think I went too young, and my style was very out of place for what was being done at the time. I don’t think too hard about concept or meaning and that drove all my instructors crazy.
If you had to explain your work to a stranger, how would you do so?
Arabella Proffer: Depends on how what kind of blank look people give me. In general I say I’m a Mannerist; if that doesn’t get a reaction then I say Neo-Realist; if that doesn’t work, I say Pop Surrealist. At times I will also say I do portraits of make believe goth & punk Elizabethan nobility with short biographies – although that isn’t all I do, it is a large chunk of it.
What are your favorite colors to work with and what aspects do you like most about using those shades?
Arabella Proffer: I go through phases; I went through a pink phase, and a red one, now I’m staying with blues and purples. They say blue sells more paintings but I’m finding it doesn’t really seem to matter. I don’t really think about why I like something, it has to do more if it looks “right” or not, and I have odd ways of judging that. The only thing I hate working with is any obnoxious yellow color; reminds me of Hummers or those awful yellow Mustangs I see around today.
What are your inspirations?
Arabella Proffer: Elizabethan and punk fashion, old Hollywood and over-the-top home décor, biographies of people in fashion, society, or film. Old Masters always do it for me, and so does Art Deco, and the old Russian architecture I used to crane my neck looking at in my travels there — cupolas area awesome.
When you’re working are you fully involved in what you’re doing or is your mind already planning ahead?
Arabella Proffer: I plan ahead a lot just because I get bored easily. I’m shocked I finish anything at all, but maybe this is why I work so fast, I’m already excited about the next new thing. Some people get freaked out when they have a blank canvas or panel staring at them, and I’m just the opposite, I can’t wait to attack those bad boys!
On average, how long does it take you to finish one of your pieces?
Arabella Proffer: For the small 5×7” ones about 12 hours or more; the larger works I’m not sure as I haven’t been clocking it, but they need time to dry between layers, so I’d say 2 to 3 weeks. Lately I’ve been working larger, and that is taking some patience – I’m not a patient person by any means.
On the website Music Is Art, our mission is to show how music and art are simply connected. Which albums do you credit as having the biggest influences as far as your art and life are concerned?
Arabella Proffer: “Priest = Aura” by The Church has been on heavy rotation since I was about 14 years old whenever I work. I finally got to see them live recently and they played nothing from that album, so I was sad about that. I used to do mixed tapes of everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Subhumans, but the past few years it has been any album by Loop, Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe”, and a glam rock compilation called “Velvet Tin Mine” which is good for when you need to stay awake.
Do you prefer long periods of time alone, or are you energized by interaction?
Arabella Proffer: My best friend is my studio-mate, so we gab a lot, but yes sometimes if I’m concentrating on a particular spot in a painting I can’t even have music on. I am not a hermit by any means; I like to go out with my friends and do things other than being chained to a piece I’m working on. I get bored when I’m by myself too long. I’ve learned you can be social and be disciplined.
If you could have a drink with one visual artist, living or dead, who would it be and what would you like to ask them?
Arabella Proffer: John Currin, so I could have him show me how the HELL he does it. Albrecht Durer would be awesome too, I don’t know what I’d ask him but I’m sure we’d figure something out.
What do you hope people take from seeing your art?
Arabella Proffer: I’ve actually never really been sure. Each piece is such a strong personality that I admire people who collect them and hang them in their home, because it isn’t anything close to wallpaper or something bland to match a couch. I guess all I can say is that I always have loved portraiture — and never been quite sure why; just that it is what I like the most for some reason and have always been drawn to it. When I was young, I always marveled at the old homes and museums that had portraits of family ancestors and such, I thought it was the proper thing to do, and so much more interesting than a photo album. I started my series I think in part because I wanted my own little gallery of ancestors as part of my home décor ever since I was a child. So I guess in a way, I hope people to think of them as their own little family members.
What has been your favorite experience thus far in your career?
Arabella Proffer: Meeting people who collect my work at the receptions in general, and one collector who made up their own biography to one of my
pieces; when people can make up their own stories in the same style as I do for most of my portraits — that is pretty fun. The commissions that fall into place have also been great. I’m always so nervous because they are real people, but when they let me do my thing and are happy with the results, that has been the best.
What part of your process is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
The skin, oh the skin! I hate it so much. And every time I go to fix something I make it worse. Obviously it turns out somehow in the end, but it is so rare I get it right on the first try. I’m also terrible at hands, if I do them right, it must be a damn miracle.
Do you have a favorite way to relax when back home?
Arabella Proffer: Wine and Netflix! Books are good too; anything about idiot socialites, crazy actresses or businesswomen who were utter maniacs.
What turns you on?
Arabella Proffer: Bacon, good beer, fancy stationary, 600 thread-count sheets, guns, elaborate chandeliers, muscle cars, novocaine shots, when guys beat the hell out of each other on UFC, my husband buck nekked.
What turns you off?
Arabella Proffer: Football, men in shorts – or golf shirts for that matter, Miller Lite, Snuggies, restaurants with “flair”, people with no backbone, and people who don’t know anything about history or are oblivious to the world around them in general.
What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Arabella Proffer: If you want something done right, do it yourself.
What exciting projects do you have coming up?
Arabella Proffer: I’m currently up at Art Whino Gallery w/ Brandi Read for the month in the DC area. I just got back from the reception and the show looks kick-ass. I have a solo show at Box Heart Gallery in Pittsburgh called “Splendor & Safety Pins” on Sept. 19th. I’ll be part of a the “Quarter Grand” show at T&P Fine Art in Philly in November, and then I’m part of a 4 city tour with Thievery Corporation and Art Whino Gallery which will be making a stop at Art Basel Miami and I’m hoping I can attend that.
May you have a particular inspired quote, statement or favorite words to live by?
Arabella Proffer: “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it” by Ellen Goodman. I like this quote because it reminds me constantly what I never want to become!
Please share a mix tape within a theme of your choice.
Arabella Proffer: Stuff You’re Likely To Hear In My Studio…
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