What keeps an artist going? When you're alone in the studio and looking for inspiration, how do you re-engage with the world to find new ideas or motivations?

One way artists, writers and musicians reflect and recharge is through doing a residency. That might mean traveling to an exotic location and spending time pushing your mental boundaries in the effort to make new work. Or a residency can take artists to a place with access to resources they might otherwise not have, like a factory or a school.

There are a variety of different types of artist residencies all over the United States and the world. Akron Soul Train is a residency program “connecting and empowering the community and artists by granting fellowships that provide resources for all creative disciplines, thereby fostering a more vibrant downtown Akron.”

Akron Soul Train has just opened a new gallery on South Main Street in the heart of downtown. The inaugural show is "Ornate Acids," an exhibition by Arabella Proffer.

Originally a portrait painter, Proffer has pushed her work beyond that genre. For her Soul Train residency in March, she created a series of oil paintings that explore her interests in “botany, microbiology, space, disease and the evolution of cells.”

Her paintings contain a nod to art history. There is often a still-life-like quality to them, though the imagery is from the artist's imagination. Things that look like baroque curtains intermingle with plant forms, insects, even human or animal organs. Proffer uses these elements to create "her own nature within little worlds.” Each painting is a look at something she has had an emotional reaction to, though she doesn’t usually began painting this type of work with an exact plan.

"Evening Excess" is an oil on canvas that depicts a still life of imagined fruit, what is perhaps manufactured elements or fabric, and what looks like vegetables, all sitting on top of off-white drapery. Different colored fluids that range from blue-black to red drip and puddle in different parts of the composition, and the backdrop to everything is a depiction of a moonless night sky with stars.

While the work most definitely reads like a still life, it has a sense of motion to it as well. The drips of fluid and different string elements that connect many of the forms bring your eye around the painting and make the imagery move and undulate as you look. This gives you a sense that at least part of the still life might still be alive and about to scamper away, or at least it wants to.

"Conservatory" is also an oil on canvas. It features off-white drapery that has been partially tied back, suspended over plants and a pool or crater that has drips of dark fluid in it. Fluids in colors ranging from a pink or salmon to blue fall from above all over the composition. Veiny, tendril-like plant forms reach across the bottom, stopping just shy of the pool and the larger multicolored plant forms.

There is movement in this painting as well, with the fluid falling from the sky and smaller tendril forms inhabiting the area around the pool. This work has a sense of the living, as the surface around the pool has a skin-like quality that reminds you of a larger plant that might be somehow hosting all of these other organisms.

While the work is clearly depicting fantasy, it still reads as very familiar, and that is certainly one of Proffer's great strengths. Further, if you research the artist a little bit, you will notice that she has a deliberate mark of her own that carries through in all of her work, be it a portrait or otherwise.

This new gallery is an exciting development for Akron Soul Train, a space dedicated to highlighting the work of the visual artists, writers and musicians who work and do residencies with them.

 

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.