A Conversation with MOLLY CRABAPPLE
By Lori Zimmer
I remember seeing the lovely Molly Crabapple, always perfectly made-up in an enviable and decadent Victorian-inspired dress, around art openings in New York for about 3 years before I made her acquaintance. I knew she was an artist, and of the work she did, but it took getting to know her to realize what a little entrepreneurial genius she is.
Aside from her infamous Dr. Sketchy’s worldwide empire of course, her most recent mad cap plan was called Week in Hell. For one week, Ms. Molly grounded herself–but it wasn’t so bad. True, she was confined to the walls of a hotel room, but it was an enviable suite (in an undisclosed location, as the hotel itself had no idea what was going on indoors). Gorgeous furniture, a built in bar, and historic views set the stage for a non-stop draw-a-thon. She and her assistants covered the lush walls from floor to ceiling with paper, and there she drew…and drew…and drew…until the entire room was filled with faceless girls frolicking, a giraffe in a birthday hat, big-nosed characters of Molly and her friend having tea, evil puffer fish, mermaids, the lovely Stoya who stopped by, and more and more and more. Every inch is illustrated, some parts more obviously driven by fatigue or absinthe, being more sinister and dark than the rest.
And here comes the genius part: the project was entirely funded by Molly Crabapple supporters, via Kickstarter. Supporters of different levels could buy yet-to-be-produced art (the entire piece was pre-sold), participate in private web chats and Skype videos, and receive other goodies only available to backers. The art market is changing, and Molly is one of the innovators at the helm, completely understanding how to hone and translate each change to work for her and her craft. I paid a visit to Molly one gray and rainy day during the Week in Hell, to sip absinthe and examine the fruits of her labor–and to see if she’d yet gone insane.
Lori Zimmer: How did you first come up with the craziness that was Week In Hell?
Molly Crabapple: I’d come to a point where I felt stagnant. I was well-known for doing these hyper-detailed pen and inks, but the most exhilarating thing I’d ever done, the closest to Saint Theresa getting stabbed with arrows art ecstasy, was painting The Box in London. I’d been experimenting with working live and bigger, and I wanted to do it in a way that invited my fans to join in along with me. I also was generally sick of everything and wanted to bash it out on a giant canvas.
I loved Daphne Guinness’s installation, where she got dressed for the Met Ball in the window of Barneys. I was telling my friend Warren Ellis that I’d love to do something similar, but was just a poxy illustrator who would never get a platform like that or a grant to fund any project of mine. “Stop whining,” he said. “Rent a hotel room, cover it in paper, draw.”
So I did.
LZ: What were your “rules” for yourself for the week?
MC: I had two rules. I couldn’t leave the room (even to go into the hallway of the hotel). I had to cover all the walls.
LZ: How did you choose the (undisclosed) location?
MC: We were initially going to do Week in Hell at the Chelsea Hotel. I’ve had a number of experiences at the hotel, both grand and sordid, and there’s even a topless photo of me on the cover of the book Inside the Chelsea Hotel. However, after we booked our room, the swine who bought the hotel closed it in a transparent bid to bust the hotel workers’ union.
We considered a number of other hotels. None had the emotional pull of the Chelsea, but the one we chose, we chose for its ravishingly beautiful furniture.
LZ: You funded the entire project via Kickstarter–in fact, you exceeded your goal. What did the funds cover?
MC: The funds covered the room (and god is a hotel suite expensive in New York), my staff of people to install the paper, haul, schlep, bring me food, and make things happen, our amazing photographer Steve Prue and videographer Keith Jenson, thousands and thousands of dollars in shipping, packing supplies, and little goodies for backers like gilded envelopes with my drawings. We also got sponsorship from Urban Decay, Dick Blick and Canson, so all the art supplies were comped (as was the incredibly sweet make-up I got to smear myself in).
LZ: How do you think has Kickstarter changed art?
MC: Kickstarter lets broke kids be showy. Before crowd-funding, to do a massive installation, or to take your ballet troupe on a tour of China, or to do whatever your non-commercial dream project was, you had the choice of pursuing grants (slow, requires knowledge of jargon, total crapshoot), sinking and probably losing your life savings in the endeavor, or somehow knowing a bunch of folks with enough money to fund you. Kickstarter lets people who don’t necessarily have money or access to traditional ways of getting money wow the world in ways that are deeply personal and unconventional
LZ: Would you ever lock yourself in a room for a week again?
MC: Yes. God help me.
Molly Crabapple is a New York based illustrator and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School. Her murals can be found world wide, and locally in Soho’s The Box.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography Courtesy of Molly Crabapple
Design by Devon Pentz
Molly Crabapple in NYC, during her Week in Hell, 2011