Molly Crabapple is like a photojournalist capturing culture both good and evil in her fine art posters and poster art.
There has been a long history of hybrids in the art world. Including collage that often shows up in fine art posters, which is made up entirely of the combination of disparate seemingly contradictory elements. One combination that has become somewhat dubious in recent years is that of poster art with the world of politics. Someone who has combined their Contemporary art with politics and made it really work is New York illustrator and former professional naked girl Molly Crabapple.
Crabapple is a maker of fine art posters who was born Jennifer Caban, but got her professional name from an Oxford professor she met while slumming in Paris before college. He just one day announced that he was writing a play and he had a character based on her named Molly Crabapple. Raised by a professional artist and a Puerto Rican Trade Unionist, Crabapple’s training in politics and poster art came almost as early as her interest in art, having grown up with both. Her mother was a professional illustrator, as were her grandparents. A fact that made it so that art was not only seen as a respectable way to make a living in her family but also something of a tradition. Crabapple’s deftness with political issues and debate came courtesy of her father, or ‘mi padre’ as she likes to call him, a strident socialist who will argue with her and made her defend her points when Crabapple was as young as eight. All good training for what would come later.
Breaking into the commercial poster art world in her mid-20s, Crabapple, is seen as something of a wunderkind and overnight success. A title that makes her laugh, a bit bitterly, considering the years it took her to get there. Starting drawing seriously in her late-teens, agonizingly developing her now- signature lush, flowing, Neo-Victorian style heavily influenced by the likes of Arthur L. Guptill and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Her first professional break came in her early-20s, when doing a cover of Screw magazine, while taking any job she could get as a visual culture artist, model, and burlesque dancer.
Crabapple is also famous as the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. A direct response to what she had to put up with as an artist’s model. A surreal, at times deeply sketchy (pun intended) experience, based on centuries old dynamics. Not content with shaking the traditional notion of arts education to their foundations Crabapple knocked the comics world sideways turning out illustrations like fine art posters the likes of which few had seen since the days of Mobius. Which in turn lead to a chance to really flex her muscles doing poster art, but more importantly cover images for books. She followed this with a forvier into illustrated journalism, following in the tradition established by the likes of William Randolph Erst, back before there were cameras, and later followed by Joe Sacco. Working for publications such as Vice, The Paris Review and Vanity Fair, Crabapple covered Guantanamo Bay military commissions and was one of the first to cover the war is Syria as it was starting, publishing stories with hand-drawn illustrations
Skills making fine art posters are ones she honed while on site during the Occupy Wall Street protests in the Summer of 2011. Joining the protesters, an action which resulted in her being arrested, was a sort of political awakening. According to Crabapple: “Before Occupy I felt like using my art for activist cause was exploitive of activist causes. I think what Occupy let me do was it allowed me to instead of just donating to politics or just going on marches, it allowed me to engage my art in politics.” A realization which no doubt informed the illustrations for the book Discordia by British hardcore journalist Laurie Penny. Such inspiration also lead to Crabapple’s 2012 poster art project The Shell Game, consisting of ten paintings based on the Great Recession. Setting a target if $30,000 Crabapple’s fans and supporters rose the occasion, collectively donating $64,799. In the first two days.
Written by T.K. McNeil
Attending art galleries before his age was in the double digits, T.K. McNeil has had a long-standing interest in art. An interest he made official obtaining a degree in Art History form the University of Victoria. Starting out at The Martlet Independent Newspaper, he has had pieces placed in publications as diverse as TechDigg, The Richest, The Spoof UK (as Trey Droll) and PopMatters.
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