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Spectrum » Books

Posted at: Mar 20, 2016, 12:57 AM; last updated: Mar 20, 2016, 12:57 AM (IST)PROFILE

With many a bold stroke

She drew, she wrote, she expressed herself. Molly Crabapple’s book Drawing Blood introduced the world to a new form of reportage

Vandana Shukla

To see my art held on the street meant more to me than to see it hanging in any art gallery.’ — Molly Crabapple

Why would a young woman write a book with a title like Drawing Blood, baring the vulgar decadence of the stock-rich bankers in New York and her own vulnerabilities? It takes courage and a high dose of honesty on the part of Molly Crabapple to not only write but also paint the world as she experienced, with warts and all.    

Had it not been for the hurriedly painted black nail paint that smudged on her ostentatiously ringed fingers, I would take Molly to be a fashionista. The petite-framed lass has been to situations across globe where gun-totting machos would fear to tread; Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to Syria to labour camps of Abu Dhabi and Gaza strip — equipped only with her drawing pad. “I love the adrenaline that comes with travel, the feeling of being tougher and braver than the men I knew, braver than the last macho archetypes — the war journalist.”

Molly participated in protests from London to New York to Athens’ Exarcheia, an anarchist stronghold, following the financial crash of 2008, got arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, which got her the first assignment to write for CNN. She drew fearlessly — her prison cell, the force-feeding chair, the walls and the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, and experimented with life and art in a way few would dare or imagine.

Her book introduces a radical Molly, who struggles to establish a new genre of writing. In the process of establishing herself as an ‘artist’ in the highly competitive, prejudiced and manipulative art world of New York, she had to reinvent herself and her art several times over and to establish herself as a ‘witness reporter’ who pens ‘narrative art’.

With a pretty face like hers, the struggles couldn’t remain ideological alone. “The world tells women they must choose between intellect and glamour, but I saw no such distinction”. As a young rebellious traveller, she almost got raped in different geographical locations across the world which gave her an insight into the mutual distrust and misgivings nurtured for “the other”.

Unable to go to a college with a “good name”, she worked her way by working for the Parisian café, Shakespeare & Company, posing nude for sketch artists, for sketchy photographers, danced burlesque in night clubs and modelled for Suicide Girls, to feed her dream. 

After years of struggle, she landed the job of house artist at the Simon Hammerstein’s infamous nightclub The Box, made popular in the Hollywood flick The Wolf of Wall Street; the crass riches of the New York bankers and Wall Street manipulators crystallised what her father used to make her aware of; the labour that goes behind making anything and everything and the capitalist exploitation of labour. “I was obsessed with the idea of artists working in studio who make objects of beauty for the rich, but I saw art happens on the road, there is art in the profound courage and beauty of people who risk everything. I wanted to engage with this art and take it to the world.”

The lucid memoir reads like a novel and is accentuated by the disturbing visual depiction of ‘The Box’, the posters she made that became part of the protests during the Occupation globally, and her brilliant show, The Shell Game, which consists of works that resemble a burlesque. The Great American Bubble Machine, drawn as religious iconography — a sharp comment on the American capitalism — or, The Hivemind — a love letter to the dissident hackers; her paintings are like allegorical writings replete with a tableau of animals — the human prototypes. With The Shell Game, she finally arrived in the New York art world as a “serious” artist, after being rejected many times for her past of a burlesque dancer and a nude model for Suicide Girls. 

Reading Drawing Blood is in no way different from talking to Molly; both run fast with animated words.

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