Art is hope against cynicism, creation against entropy. To make art is an act of both love and defiance. Though I’m a cynic, I believe these things are all we have. ( p.320)
In blank notes I put painful bits of my past on the computer screen. As I wrote, these memories became external to me. They were art now, less a burden than a product. They couldn’t hurt me anymore. ( p316)
Molly Crabapple’s Drawing Blood is a memoir which is most extraordinary. ( http://mollycrabapple.com/ ) It is like a picture book for adults. The pictures complement the text and vice versa. But the words too recreate in minute visual detail each memory she chooses to recount. There are pages and pages of description that is like walking through an exhibition of dioramas brilliantly laid out by a talented artist. The memories recounted are those that seem to matter the most to Molly Crabapple. There seems to be no inclination or desire to delve into spaces that may give the socio-cultural co-ordinates of the artist. Only what is relevant to her narrative is shared even to the extent her grandfather, the painter, is referred to only because of the artistic inheritance evident in her mother and in Molly’s talent. But it is the incidents she chooses to dwell upon are an extraordinary insight into society, not just the underbelly of modern society but of the marginalised groups and the fight for survival, the fight for rights, the fight against injustice. Her series from Guantanamo Bay for the online journal Vice catapulted her to fame. ( http://www.vice.com/read/
And this is the opening line of Drawing Blood.
In that one sentence Molly Crabapple brings reading to a grinding halt. The visual image it conjures up of an artist peacefully sketching a man in an orange jump suit, shackled and behind bars in a court room, far, far away…with the drawings later to be stamped by an official inspector marking his approval for the sheets to be publicised as a cruel reminder that Guantanamo Bay is a high-security zone. Yet, there is no denying the painful intensity of her drawings as is evident in the sketches tipped into the memoir.
It takes a while to return to the text but once back it is incredible to read how much experience Molly Crabapple has packed in a short while. Beginning with the time spent as a seventeen-year-old at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris to wandering and drawing in the streets of Morocco, Turkey, participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement to painting sex workers, gay and trans refugees fleeing Syria, migrant workers building Abu Dhabi’s great museums etc. It is no surprise then if you type in the search words, “Molly Crabapple”, there are a number of options that appear for her art work — Art, Burlesque, Illustration, Drawings, Political Art, and Marvel– highlighting her multi-faceted interests. But it is her humility, a rare trait, that shines through the memoir — “As I worked abroad, I began to recognize my own smallness in the vast world, and the learning I still had to do.” ( p.335)
In her concluding paragraph she says:
I started drawing as a way to cope with people: to observe and record them, to understand them, charm them, or to keep them at arm’s length. I drew to show Moroccon street kids that I was more than a tourist. I drew to win the attention of beautiful women and to mock authoritarian twits. I drew from the wings of burlesque shows, when the girls peeled off their gloves and poured glitter into the crowd. When the world changed in 2011, I let my art change with it, expanding nightclub walls to hotel suites and street protests. My drawings bled into the world.
I continue to draw, out of a gluttonous desire for life in all its beauty and horror. I draw everything I hate and everything I love. I fill new notebooks every week, sketching refugee camps and rebels, performers and migrants.
My work has taken me past the edge of burnout. It’s burned in.
Art gave me a way to see, to record, to fight and to interrogate, to preserve love and demand reckoning — to find joy where once I could see only ash.
I’d take on the world, armed only with a sketchbook.
I’d make it mine. ( p. 335)
Read Molly Crabapple’s memoir. She is like the Elvis of New Age Literature blazing a unique trail of her own while building upon the artistic traditions she has inherited in an informed manner. Read Drawing Blood. You won’t be sorry.
Molly Crabapple Drawing Blood Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2015. Hb. pp. 335. Rs 1299
16 March 2016