Jim Proctor was born in 1969 in Sandusky, Ohio and was raised in the small town of Groveport, just southeast of Columbus. He moved to Minnesota to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield from which he graduated in 1992 with a B.A. in Studio Arts and Religion. Soon thereafter he moved to Minneapolis where he has continued to live and work as a visual artist.
At St. Olaf, Proctor focused on making 2-dimensional work and was inspired by the landscape, individual plants and the sky and how all of these elements related visually to one another. As his studies progressed, his once representational paintings and drawings became increasingly abstract and he began bringing plant material – flowers, leaves, bushes, weeds - into the studio, studying their forms and root systems. When he literally stapled a Gooseberry bush to a painting Proctor had a revelatory “Ah ha!” moment. He states, “I could now see how the plant served the idea and conception of the painting and how the painting could serve the form and function of the plant.” However, by the time he graduated, he was at an aesthetic crossroads, questioning his future path. Through a long, slow process, Proctor’s paintings decreased in scale in relation to the plants, until the 2-dimensional painting support disappeared entirely. He was now free to investigate “how a work of art is like a plant and how a plant is like a work of art.”
Since that time, Proctor has explored the aesthetic potential of a range of plant material – thorns, nuts, seed-pods, weeds – and how they can be altered and combined into a new, fantastical “species.” He showcases these inventions in simple but elegant shadowboxes that give his work an elegant sculptural presence and also recall vitrines in 19th century natural history museums. For example, an acorn will be adorned with a crown of thorns that may be further elaborated with the furry lining of a seedpod. “I see the addition of thorns as an act of protection, protecting the natural world against the threats of a world increasingly dominated by humanity,” Proctor states. His aesthetic practice has evolved into a “crude form of genetic engineering, a chimera of sorts.”
Within Proctor’s aesthetic practice, a large scale, temporary public artwork he created in 2005 along Minneapolis’ West River Parkway, counters the intimate scale of most of his work. Funded by Forecast Public Art and titled The Buckthorn Menace, he used the in situ invasive Buckthorn plants, limbed, to create a work that suggests a huge dandelion seed head. He conceived related projects at St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield.
Proctor also works at the Minneapolis Central Library’s Bindery and he volunteers on the Board of Friends for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden where he dedicates time to removing invasive species from the garden. He was named one City Pages “2010 Artists of the Year."
Mason Riddle is a Saint Paul-based critic who writes on the visual arts, architecture and design.