MOLLY CRABAPPLE

Molly Crabapple
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MOLLY CRABAPPLE



Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Molly Crabapple, Najva Sol
20 Sunday 20th March 2011
Model turned illustrator Molly Crabapple takes the notion of burlesque as a feminine, sensual performance and turns it into almost grotesque rococo illustrations, which she plasters across live art nights, graphic novels, and club interiors. She now designs t-shirts, models, and runs the New York branch of the  burlesque life-drawing class, Dr Sketchy's Anti Art School (more on that later). And yes, she is an art school drop-out and proud of it.
 
First of all, what is it about the marriage of burlesque and art that you think draws in members and fans of Dr Sketchy's?
 
Firsof all, what is it about the marriage of burlesque and art that you think draws in members and fans of Dr Sketchy'First of all, what is it about the marriage of burlesque and art that you think draws in members and fans of Dr Sketchy's?
For me, I think that burlesque performers are some of the most toughest, glitteriest, most inspired human beings around, who carved a scene wholesale out of their imaginations. I love paying homage to them. In terms of Sketchy's, art dorks like me get to hang with gorgeous performers of the demi-monde.
 
We heard about your tarot card design for The Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer. How did that collaboration come about, and have you seen the rest of the deck yet?

When Amanda Palmer tweeted last year about wanting to create a tarot deck, I knew I had to draw The Hanged Man.  The card's themes of sacrifice and transformation deeply resonated with me, and since Amanda had just completed her book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, they seemed to resonate in her work too.  Alas, I haven't seen the whole deck, but I can't wait till it's released.
 
The Hanged Man from Molly's forthcoming Amanda Palmer tarot deck
 
You're very open about your choice to drop out of the Fashion Institute of Technology in your first year. How do see your experience at FIT when you look back on it now? 
 
I was a terrible, awful, no-good student, at a not particularly great school. Me and my best friend John [Leavitt] dropped out on the same day, and I'm quite happy we did.
 
Molly drawing at The Ace Hotel, New York
 
Dr Sketchy's, your life drawing cabaret class, is massively on the rise. Which has been the latest city to add a Dr Sketchy branch, that you know of? How tempted are you to travel around the world again, visiting the home cities of as many as you can?
 
Oh dear! I know we recently added our first Norwegian Sketchy's. Viking Sketchy's FTW. We've dominated pretty much every inch of the UK and nearly every major city in the US. My favourite new branch of the moment is in the Philippines. I do love traveling, but I've been on the road every month for the past few years, and so I miss my man and my cat and the special way I make my coffee.
 
 
How high on the scale of importance does branding and identity sit for you as an artist? Do you feel you can separate that from where it sits as Molly the businesswoman?
 
When I started out as an artist I was very concerned with my brand, and now I'm increasingly less so. I do more of what comes naturally, and my Twitter feed is a mix of rabble rousing politics, sketchbook pages, and dispatches from corset shops in London (What Katie Did, fuck yeah).
 
I do draw in a very consistent style, one that comes from my maximalist aesthetic and inability to draw a straight line, and having that sort of consistency is essential when, like me, you work in lots of different media. I think that not having to focus on your brand is a luxury that happens when you get a little more established, but when clawing your way up to the stage of making a living as an artist, it's pretty essential.
 
 
There's an obvious sensuality and element of cheek to your illustrations and fine art. How much do you think your background in modelling affects the way you portray the human form?
 
Nothing will teach you about money, artifice, and power differentials like plastering your face with makeup and arching your back naked in the hotel room of an amateur photographer.  I'm a bit of a dirty old man at heart, and a grumpy old lady also - so my work combines lots of curvaceous girls with social satire.
 
Do your personal relationships tend to filter into your art? How much of your own story do you tend to pour into your drawings and books (especially Scarlett Takes Manhattan)?
 
You know, Scarlett wasn't my story at all. The closest I'm getting to doing an autobiographical character is Janet, the heroine of me and John Leavitt's new graphic novel Straw House. She's a mouthy young baby-beatnik, and probably a lot like I would have been if I wasn't able to run off to Europe after high school.
 
Poster art for The Box, New York
 
How do you feel you reconcile the history of vaudeville and cabaret to create a relevance that resonates with and titillates viewers now? 
 
I think that what's so fascinating about the history of vaudeville is that you have, in this deeply brutal, fucked up country, a place where queers, people of colour, immigrants, women, could, however briefly, through pure glittering style, transcend the place that society had proscribed for them.
 
 
You've spoken in the past about masks and artifice forming a cornerstone of some of your work. Why do you feel there's the need for performers to hide behind the opulent painted masks of Victorian England/Rococo France?
 
Well, I think all performance, including the really raw, honest stuff, is at its root based on artifice - the artifice of editing, of distilling things down to their most interesting crystalline essence, of making art and meaning out of the floating trivia of life.
 
What's been your favourite commissioned project/personality to work with over the last few years? And what do you feel is your most ambitious project to date?
 
The Box (an infamous nightclub in NYC that just opened a branch in London) is my favorite client. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Toulouse Lautrec, and I feel like, in The Box, I found my Moulin Rouge.  
 
The walls of The Box in London
 
The Box let me take my art into places darker, more debauched, more scathing, than most clients are willing to go. The 90 feet of murals I did for their London club are the best, most ambitious things I've ever done.
 
If you were forced to choose between running NY's Dr Sketchy's, live drawing at events, and exhibiting in galleries which would it be? Why?
 
I'd probably do my own art.  Dr. Sketchy's at this point, is a self sustaining company.
 
Page from graphic novel, The Puppet Makers
 
What's next for the Crabapple brand in terms of graphic novels and your published work with John Leavitt?
 
Me and John recently got a book deal with First Second to do a graphic novel, Straw House. It's a bit like Geek Love meets American Gods, the story of a carnival populated by immortal outcasts, which destroys a small Pennsylvania town when a battle breaks out over who's going to be the next in charge. It's due out 2013.
 
For me, I think that burlesque performers are some of the most toughest, glitteriest, most inspired human beings around, who carved a scene wholesale out of their imaginations.  I love paying homage to them. In terms of Sketchy's, artdorks like me get to hang with gorgeous performers of the demimonde.
 
How do see your experience at FIT when you look back on it now? 
 
I was a terrible, awful, no good student, at a not particularly great school.  Me and my best friend John dropped out on the same day, and I'm quite happy we did
 
Which has been the latest city to add a Dr Sketchy branch, that you know of? How tempted are you to travel around the world again, visiting the home cities of as many as you can?
 
Oh dear!  I know we recently added our first Norwegian Sketchy's. Viking Sketchy's FTW.  We've dominated pretty much every inch of the UK and nearly every major city in the US.  My favorite new branch of the moment is in the Philippines.  I do love traveling, but I've been on the road every month for the past few years, and so I miss my man and my cat and the special way I make my coffee.
 
How high on the scale of importance does branding and identity sit for you as an artist? Do you feel you can separate that from where it sits as Molly the businesswoman?
 
When I started out as an artist I was very concerned with my brand, and now I'm increasingly less so.  I do more what comes naturally, and my twitter feed is a mix of rabble rousing politics, sketchbook pages, and dispatches from corset shops in London (What Katie Did, fuck yeah). I do draw in a very consistent style, one that comes from my
maximalist aesthetic and inability to draw a straight line, and having that sort of consistency is essential when, like me, you work in lots of different media.  I think that not having to focus on your brand is a luxury that happens when you get a little more established, but when clawing your way up to the stage of making a living as an artist, it's pretty essential.
 
There's an obvious sensuality and element of cheek to your illustrations and fine art. How much do you think your background in modelling affects the way you portray the human form?
 
Nothing will teach you about money, artifice, and power differentials like plastering your face with makeup and arching your back naked in the hotel room of an amateur photographer.  I'm a bit of a dirty old man at heart, and a grumpy old lady also- so my work combines lots of
curvaceous girls with social satire.
 
Do your personal relationships tend to filter into your art? How much of your own story do you tend to pour into your drawings and books (especially “Scarlett Takes Manhattan”)?
 
You know, Scarlett wasn't my story at all.  The closest I'm getting to doing an auto-graphical character is Janet, the heroine of my and John Leavitt's new graphic novel Straw House.  She's a mouthy young baby-beatnik, and probably a lot like I would have been if I wasn't able to run off to Europe after high school.
 
How do you feel you reconcile the history of vaudeville and cabaret to create a relevance that resonates with and titillates viewers now? 
 
I think that what's so fascinating about the history of vaudeville is that you have, in this deeply brutal, fucked up country, a place where queers, people of colour, immigrants, women, could, however briefly, through pure glittering style, transcending the place that society had proscribed for them.
 
You've spoken in the past about masks and artifice forming a cornerstone of some of your work. Why do you feel there's the need for performers to hide behind the opulent painted masks of Victorian England/Rococo France?
 
Well, I think all performance, including the really raw, honest stuff, is at its root based on artifice- the artifice of editing, of distilling things down to their most interesting crystalline essence, of making art and meaning out of the floating trivia of life.
 
What's been your favourite commissioned project/personality to work with over the last few years? And what do you feel is your most ambitious project to date?
 
The Box (an infamous nightclub in NYC that just opened a branch in London) is my favorite client.  When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Toulouse Lautrec, and I feel like, in The Box, I found my Moulin Rouge.  The Box lets me take my art into places darker, more debauched, more scathing, than most clients are willing to go.  The 90 feet of murals I did for their London club are the best, most ambitious things I've ever done.
 
If you were forced to choose between running NY's Dr Sketchy's, live drawing at events, and exhibiting in galleries which would it be? Why?
 
I'd probably do my own art.  Dr. Sketchy's at this point, is a self sustaining company.
 
What's next for the Crabapple brand in terms of graphic novels and your published work with John Leavitt?
 
Me and John recently got a book deal with First Second to do a graphic novel, Straw House.  Its a bit like Geek Love meets American Gods, the story of a carnival populated by immortal outcasts, which destroys a small Pennsylvania town when a battle breaks out over who's going to be the next in charge.  It's due out 2013.
For me, I think that burlesque performers are some of the most toughest, glitteriest, most inspired human beings around, who carved a scene wholesale out of their imaginations.  I love paying homage to them. In terms of Sketchy's, artdorks like me get to hang with gorgeous performers of the demimonde.
 
How do see your experience at FIT when you look back on it now? 
 
I was a terrible, awful, no good student, at a not particularly great school.  Me and my best friend John dropped out on the same day, and I'm quite happy we did
 
Which has been the latest city to add a Dr Sketchy branch, that you know of? How tempted are you to travel around the world again, visiting the home cities of as many as you can?
 
Oh dear!  I know we recently added our first Norwegian Sketchy's. Viking Sketchy's FTW.  We've dominated pretty much every inch of the UK and nearly every major city in the US.  My favorite new branch of the moment is in the Philippines.  I do love traveling, but I've been on the road every month for the past few years, and so I miss my man and my cat and the special way I make my coffee.
 
How high on the scale of importance does branding and identity sit for you as an artist? Do you feel you can separate that from where it sits as Molly the businesswoman?
 
When I started out as an artist I was very concerned with my brand, and now I'm increasingly less so.  I do more what comes naturally, and my twitter feed is a mix of rabble rousing politics, sketchbook pages, and dispatches from corset shops in London (What Katie Did, fuck yeah). I do draw in a very consistent style, one that comes from my
maximalist aesthetic and inability to draw a straight line, and having that sort of consistency is essential when, like me, you work in lots of different media.  I think that not having to focus on your brand is a luxury that happens when you get a little more established, but when clawing your way up to the stage of making a living as an artist, it's pretty essential.
 
There's an obvious sensuality and element of cheek to your illustrations and fine art. How much do you think your background in modelling affects the way you portray the human form?
 
Nothing will teach you about money, artifice, and power differentials like plastering your face with makeup and arching your back naked in the hotel room of an amateur photographer.  I'm a bit of a dirty old man at heart, and a grumpy old lady also- so my work combines lots of
curvaceous girls with social satire.
 
Do your personal relationships tend to filter into your art? How much of your own story do you tend to pour into your drawings and books (especially “Scarlett Takes Manhattan”)?
 
You know, Scarlett wasn't my story at all.  The closest I'm getting to doing an auto-graphical character is Janet, the heroine of my and John Leavitt's new graphic novel Straw House.  She's a mouthy young baby-beatnik, and probably a lot like I would have been if I wasn't able to run off to Europe after high school.
 
How do you feel you reconcile the history of vaudeville and cabaret to create a relevance that resonates with and titillates viewers now? 
 
I think that what's so fascinating about the history of vaudeville is that you have, in this deeply brutal, fucked up country, a place where queers, people of colour, immigrants, women, could, however briefly, through pure glittering style, transcending the place that society had proscribed for them.
 
You've spoken in the past about masks and artifice forming a cornerstone of some of your work. Why do you feel there's the need for performers to hide behind the opulent painted masks of Victorian England/Rococo France?
 
Well, I think all performance, including the really raw, honest stuff, is at its root based on artifice- the artifice of editing, of distilling things down to their most interesting crystalline essence, of making art and meaning out of the floating trivia of life.
 
What's been your favourite commissioned project/personality to work with over the last few years? And what do you feel is your most ambitious project to date?
 
The Box (an infamous nightclub in NYC that just opened a branch in London) is my favorite client.  When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Toulouse Lautrec, and I feel like, in The Box, I found my Moulin Rouge.  The Box lets me take my art into places darker, more debauched, more scathing, than most clients are willing to go.  The 90 feet of murals I did for their London club are the best, most ambitious things I've ever done.
 
If you were forced to choose between running NY's Dr Sketchy's, live drawing at events, and exhibiting in galleries which would it be? Why?
 
I'd probably do my own art.  Dr. Sketchy's at this point, is a self sustaining company.
 
What's next for the Crabapple brand in terms of graphic novels and your published work with John Leavitt?
 
Me and John recently got a book deal with First Second to do a graphic novel, Straw House.  Its a bit like Geek Love meets American Gods, the story of a carnival populated by immortal outcasts, which destroys a small Pennsylvania town when a battle breaks out over who's going to be the next in charge.  It's due out 2013.
Well, that sounds pretty awesome. See more and keep up to date with Molly's work on her site.

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