Featured Artist Arabella Proffer

Artsy Shark presents featured artist Arabella Proffer. She offers her portfolio, filled with fictional characters who have fascinating backgrounds. Visit her website to see more of her artwork.

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, primarily before moving to Laguna Beach (luckily I went to high school there before that stupid reality show) and graduated from CalArts in 2000 where I studied art, film, and animation. I actually wanted to be an animator for a while, but the repetition drove me crazy and I realized that sequential art wasn’t for me.

At one point I took a test for “The Simpson’s” and that experience made me want to stick with my own singular images even more. I don’t like it when people tell me what to do, so professionally, it made more sense for me to be a painter. As far as classification, my art has been called everything from Pop Surrealism to Neo Realism; personally I like to just say I’m an unabashed Mannerist.

Probably the most recognizable paintings I’ve done — and most dear to me — are my ongoing portrait series where I’ve created a fake empire and portrait gallery in the old European tradition. The series brings together my interests in deviant lifestyles, punk, grit, and rebellion, and combines it with decadence, rich paintings, eccentricity, and older cultures.

What was once considered counter-culture or unique is now so widely accepted that as an artist, the effect of these appearances superimposed on traditional ones has always been of interest. I’m a former punk myself, but even when I had a Mohawk, I loved champagne and fancy stationary. So I wondered how the punk or gothic styles might be adopted by aristocrats and social elites if it were part of their own decoration for serious portraits; ones that would be left as a reminder of their legacy. I love the time periods between Elizabethan and Georgian for the aesthetics and costumes; then I realized that if you could afford hair dye, piercing, and tattoos back then, it really would be a status symbol – it would mean you were rich!

Traditionally, each portrait preserves what may later be a historical moment, but in my little world, these “historical” moments are of my own imagination. So between the peerage and costume research, I like to combine aristocratic traditions and names that sound Slavic, Latin, and Anglo in origin. And while they are all made up, it lends authenticity but in a surreal way. I call them “characters”, because I make up short biographies, along with maps, crests, and family trees. The family trees started just as a way for me to keep track of everything, but I incorporate them more into making it part of the viewing experience.

I tend to fool a lot of viewers, as everyone seems to think my portraits and biographies are based on fact or someone who existed. One woman even claimed she had been to the ancestral home on a guided tour of one of my characters! So in many ways the writing is just as important as the artwork itself. I’ve even had collectors and fans write their own biographies for my paintings, and that’s always fun to see. In all I think it is about class, status, and identity, but also about frivolity and beauty.

Right now I’m working on more work based loosely off dreams, plants, and animal themes. I’m always for happy accidents, so like my figurative works, they just sort of come from nowhere. I’m not one for heavy planning and reworking, research and a few reference points perhaps, but over all I’m rather impulsive. I’m also looking forward to doing more exhibitions this year, continuing with my portraits and commissions, but I also hope that finally one day I can have a book published of my portraits and their little empire.


  1. Your link to your website isn’t working! Love your art.

  2. Arabella, I love your unique take on portraits and the imagination you put into it. You are truly gifted and I can see so many possibilities with your talent, beyond the publication of a book…


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