A polyglot of talent and a natural raconteuse, artist Arabella Proffer's professional and personal hat rack includes painter, consultant, record label owner, collector, blogger, actress and cancer survivor.
"My parents' (Russian academics Ellenea Proffer and the late Carl Ray Proffer) worst nightmare for me was that I'd become an accountant," she says. "They kind of decided I was going to become an artist by the time I was 2 years old because I drew a landscape in the iris of an eye. So I guess I was already a surrealist at 2. I thought I'd go into film or animation; I never thought I'd be showing in galleries. It's funny because a good portion of my collectors now are accountants."
Currently, Proffer is working on, of all things, a book about Cleveland's unique and stylish lavatories. "Being an artist is about observing and you can't do that from your couch," she says during our interview at The Bum's Saloon in Slavic Village. Proffer has 38 bathrooms already tagged for the project. "I want ones that look as if they haven't been renovated since the '60s, although I like ones that are at Now That's Class and the Greek Orthodox church in Tremont. I plan on returning to the Allen Theater and also checking out the ones at City Hall."
Proffer gets up to check out the ladies room and comes back nonplussed. "It's not interesting enough. I really want to go back to the Boardwalk Cafe to check out their purple bathroom. I hear it's crazy." And as if a sign from the potty gods, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" overpowers the room, our cue to head east.
At the Boardwalk Cafe the bathroom is ostentatiously purple and adorned with circular mirrors. As a bonus, there's a decoupage wall of cheesecake women in Daisy Dukes leading into the men's room. Proffer is pleased. I joke that the title of this profile might become, "Potty Talk with Arabella Proffer," and she quips right back, "I'm more than just potty talk. I'm multi-faceted, I do photography, I do joke drawings, and I do serious oil painting. That's another thing too — that whole artist branding thing — I kind of threw that out the window because all my work looks so different now. And I used to worry about it. You always got told not to do that in art school because the galleries frown upon it, but now with the internet I can be, like, I do this and I do this. I'm like the band that does a different album every time.
"Being in the studio is fine, but I find that things always get done," she goes on. "I love a deadline. Deadlines are my friend. I like them because it forces me to have a schedule for work, but in the summer I don't have one and that's how this book came about and how my solo show GURLS, at FB69 Gallery in Munster, came about: Doing stuff in between."
German art dealer Kolja Steinrotter had been following Proffer's GURLS series on social media for some time when he approached her to do a solo exhibition. The series was developed in sketchbooks while Proffer was recovering in bed from multiple surgeries, when painting at her easel wasn't possible.
"Just like this book, it started off as a joke, actually," she says. It speaks about technology, relationships, and first-world problems. "Once I got offered the show, I took it a bit more seriously. I didn't think anyone would like it or care. I was slightly worried about the backlash from my work because it involves 'basic bitches' and I make fun of certain women, but every time, those girls love them and identify and can laugh at themselves. Everyone has found it funny and nobody has taken offense to them, because, you know, everyone takes offense at everything these days."
While Proffer likes deadlines, and likes work, there's clearly an imperative to set aside time to rest, both for the sake of rest and because it produces better, more informed work.
"All these artists who act like I don't have a work ethic because I don't paint every single day ... No. I like to take breaks. I like to fool around and do nothing, you know? It's not lack of work ethic; it's called actually living life. Otherwise what do you have to say?" Proffer opines. "I've never regretted a trip, I've never regretted going out and socializing. You never know who you are going to meet. I've had a lot of things happen for me career-wise because of random people I've met by accident. Do I like to chill at home and watch Netflix? Sure, but I don't live through that. It's why pub culture is dying in England, why record stores are dying and nightclubs and video stores, because people don't go out and do things and socialize anymore. They stay at home and get neurotic and weird."
A lot of that instinct and motivation to get out of the house comes from the hours and hours she spent cooped up because she was sick.
"When you've been really ill and confined to your bed against your will — and I have had years worth of being confined to my bed against my will, I've faced death several times — so I make up for it. And then there are people who say, 'Oh you do such interesting things, you live such an interesting life.'
"It's called leaving the f-ing house. I leave the house."
Follow Arabella Proffer's travels and work starting with her blog, Arty Farty: ArabellaProffer.wordpress.com.