North Shore artist has a ‘bit of bite’
At first, Isabelle Proctor’s second-floor art studio seems like a small apartment, too clean and organized to be a source of inspiration for the North Shore “assemblage” artist.
But the atmosphere suits both her personality and carefully created artwork.
“My nature is to be tidy, but artists aren’t supposed to be like that. I need to be organized or else I’d get frustrated,” says Proctor, in a faint Scottish accent at her studio near the base of Pemberton Avenue in North Vancouver.
She creates assemblage sculpture by putting together interesting objects found at thrift stores and garage sales. Her work, placed on stands strategically around the studio, is always bold, with clean, straight lines and few colours.
Much of what Proctor does is inspired by an exhibition of Egyptian art her father took her to back in Scotland. She uses found items to add modern touches to miniature mummies, sphinxes and palm trees which, suitably, are painted in neutral and dark colours.
“I like things to have a little bit of bite,” says Proctor, a statement which could seem contradictory for a woman who serves her guests cookies and tea with cream and sugar.
But her artwork is a close expression of her personality, neat and organized with an obvious complicated side. Each piece has a unique story behind it — some lighthearted and others much more serious.
“I feel they should have respectful burials because they’re often discarded in bad ways,” says Proctor about one of her signature forms of art — thrift store Barbie dolls wrapped as mummies. She is troubled by how quickly Barbies are forgotten and thrown away as soon as their young owners outgrow them.
“I never really liked Barbie dolls, but came to respect them because of the enjoyment they give little girls and their mothers.”
Now, thanks to Proctor, the dolls are given a final resting place on a long canoe, in a box wearing a Christian cross and eerily suspended over a bed of sharp nails.
The bodies of the small-scale mummies are covered in beige and brown fabric, but Proctor has decided to let one show through for the first time. She is painting a Ken doll’s eyes in the black cat-eye design once donned by Egyptian royalty. After being tightly wrapped, he will be placed in his home, a brown woven boat she found at a thrift store.
Proctor, who once lived near Capilano College but now lives in West Van, graduated from Emily Carr in sculpture, with a sideline in photography. Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, the “found art” creator became a B.C. resident when she and her husband drove their Volkswagen from Montreal for a new job.
Proctor quickly switched from weaving to sculpture while taking courses at Capilano College in the 1970s, before transferring to Emily Carr, because she found herself wanting to create statue-like figures. During school, she discovered her inspiration — Joseph Cornell, a celebrated pioneer of assemblage art who lived from 1903 to 1972. He is well known for his use of simple, interactive boxes to display photographs and Victorian ornaments, and was fascinated by fragments of once-beautiful objects found at bookshops and thrift stores.
“I’d say I do things more precisely than him, which is my nature,” explains Proctor, who has her art supplies organized into small boxes at one corner of the studio.
Not all her art is Egyptian-inspired, but it all has a common element — black, her favourite colour because of the boldness it brings to the sculptures.
She also uses industrial material to create objects that are traditionally “women’s work,” like her needle-point design using metal instead of thread. The word “No” created by silver studs is placed in the centre, a commentary on the strong word that is used as an “easy way out, without having to take responsibility.”
She likes to use tiny doll-like figures in her art, dancing in sardine cans, hatching out of eggs and carefully climbing ladders.
But Proctor hasn’t always been an assemblage artist. She started off restoring damaged First Nations masks. She still enjoys looking at similar masks today because each has a complicated story behind it, just like her artwork.
Proctor is displaying two Egyptian-inspired statues, including the Barbie suspended over a bed of nails, at the Ferry Building Gallery’s Harmony Showcase Exhibition in West Van from Aug. 3 to 19.