Utah artist painted life and death scenes as metaphors. Then they became all-too-real

Dec 20, 2023, 7:15 PM | Updated: Dec 21, 2023, 10:57 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Artist Zachary Proctor sometimes painted the precarious nature of life — a racecar hanging sideways in midair, a man balancing on chairs atop a city high-rise, and two children falling out of a small boat in rough seas as a shark lurks nearby beneath the waves.

However, little did he know that he and his wife, Claire, would find themselves in that same boat.

“Like the picture with the shark,” Claire said. “I felt like the people like falling out of the boat. This painting, like, this is how I feel.”

“It was a little prophetic,” Zachary added.

And Yet They Had Hope by Zachary Proctor. (Courtesy: Zachary Proctor) Take the Next Step by Zachary Proctor. (Courtesy: Zachary Proctor) Finding Balance by Zachary Proctor. (Courtesy: Zachary Proctor)

Zachary said he was feeling healthy two years ago, and his career as an independent artist was thriving. Then he noticed a bump on his chest. He says he was shocked when doctors told him it was a rare bone cancer.

“(What was) shocking to me was how arrogant I was to believe that I was just owed this future, that I would just grow old,” Zachary said. “I don’t know why I thought I was owed or I was guaranteed a long and eventful life.”

He went through six grueling rounds of chemotherapy. Each day, his father would pick him up and say the same thing, ‘It’s time to take the next step.’

“And just like he did when he was my baseball coach in our East Millcreek league, he was sort of coaching me on and sat with me… through every chemo dose,” Zachary said.

The Proctor family, Claire (left) and Zachary (middle right) with their two children.

The Proctor family, Claire (left) and Zachary (middle right), with their two children. (KSL TV)

Zachary points to an unfinished painting in his studio — a batter stepping out of a dugout on his way to the plate.

“Chemo felt very similar to that same anxiety as an eight-year-old boy stepping up to take a swing at a pitch,” he said.“And so that’s sort of what the painting feels like, is taking that next step. And facing a very hard situation. The idea is to keep moving forward.”

Zachary is cancer-free and back in his studio, though not as often as he once was. He has two small children, and this experience considerably changed his priorities.

“It makes you realize that, like, life is really fragile, and you have no idea what’s ahead, and your life can change in an instant,” Claire said. “We kind of live our lives thinking that nothing’s going to change. And then something does change. And it’s really horrible. But then, you know, there’s beauty on the other side.”

“You recognize all the beauty that the world has to offer,” Zachary added.

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Utah artist painted life and death scenes as metaphors. Then they became all-too-real