By Erin Fae
“Olympia is [a] fuck-you confrontation in a pearly pink package,” Molly Crabapple told me of one of her favorite paintings. “Manet was painting the top courtesan in Paris, surrounded by all the luxury she’d earned, staring out with dead contempt. It was to be hung at the salon, where all the men who she’d slept with would be out with their wives. And she’d be looking at them. Olympia caused a complete scandal.”
Crabapple is no stranger to provocation. The young artist is most famous for bringing together burlesque, the underground and life drawing in a regular evening called Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. What started in New York City in 2005 is now a regular life drawing event with chapters in over 100 cities worldwide. Dr. Sketchy’s brings underground and burlesque performers into many artists’ and curious people’s lives who might not have come to the erotic in their work. People join together to draw porn stars, burlesque divas, circus acts and other performers from the underground, often in the most titillating barely-there attire.
A night at Dr. Sketchy’s is a work of performance art in itself. Some sessions have performers tackling different themes or scenarios (Jack-the-Ripper murders, a comic book or an upcoming holiday) while the attendees create their own interpretation of the erotic (still) life happening on stage.
I asked Crabapple about how Dr. Sketchy’s changed her relation to art, artists and the world. She gushed: “Having a built in community like Sketchy’s has enabled me to travel to places like Berlin and Sao Paulo, speak at the Museum of Modern Art, and introduced me to some of the coolest, most wildly creative people I could ever have hoped for.” She also feels that “many people are grateful to be able to meet and depict their favorite underground rock stars, and being able to create a space for those collaborations is something I’m extremely proud of.”
In her own work, Crabapple often combines depictions of Victoriana with underground and erotic performers, juxtaposing the two into what she calls “Saucy Victorian,” and bringing it all into vibrant color. “I came of age surrounded by nude models and burlesque performers–tough, indomitable women with sparkles and high heels,” she says when asked about the combination of themes “Meanwhile Victoriana inspired me with its combination of artifice and solid-gold-cruelty.” The women depicted in her work often seem exalted to a god-like status, in pigment and ink, their erotic presence is transformed into some kind of mythology.
Crabapple helped pay her way through art school by being a model—sometimes for artists, sometimes for Lowrider magazine. These experiences taught her a great deal about power and influenced the way she thinks about artifice and the erotic in art. She jokes, “Nothing will teach you about power like getting paid 150 an hour to lie naked and covered in hardboiled eggs for a wealthy amateur photographer.”
Molly Crabapple has dabbled in many media, from comics to drawing and painting to performance art and events. She’s been favoring using sharpie pens, and finds that her favored medium lately is “giant ink drawings. Sometimes I feel like all those tentacles and flying whiskey bottles are straight from my wrists.”