Molly Crabapple is an inevitable point of reference for life drawing organizers; the Dr Sketchys sessions that she founded in New York were an international hit that preempted the current trend for life-drawing-with-an-edge. It wasn’t a surprise to bump into Art Macabre’s queen of drawing Nikki Shail at Molly Crabapple’s talk at the Piccadilly Waterstones on Monday night. Introduced by Little Atoms and in conversation with writer and broadcaster Paul Mason (author of ‘Postcapitalism: A guide to our Future’) Molly wasn’t there to talk about life drawing: she was discussing American foreign policy, the Syrian war, the plight of refugees around the world. She was talking about the success and failures of Occupy Wall Street, #blacklivesmatter, Donald Trump; eloquently, passionately and with the weight of her own personal engagement. It is her more recent journalistic work, her activism and her willingness to have difficult and complex conversations about the state of our global society that drew me to the talk and I could have happily have listened longer.
Molly’s journalistic writing is always accompanied by her drawings and as we become increasingly desensitized to the proliferation of photographic imagery, there is something distinctly engaging about that. Observational drawings are the tactile record of a long moment of looking. What can be more subversive than hard looking? Molly said during the conversation with Paul Mason that drawing ‘had trained me to see sharply – to see the details’. Armed with an artist’s curiosity she is bearing witness to the world as it is with the active agency of journalistic intent.
A picture can be snapped in a moment and regardless of the power of its subject photographs risk becoming subsumed into the cinematic imagery to which we are exposed daily. Photoshop has neutered the photograph as an authenticated record of truth. When you draw you have to lock eyes with your subject; there is no camera viewfinder to protect you, or them. To spend long enough staring at the rubble of a bombed city to record what you have seen in drawn marks, your eyes must move over ever brick, barrel and body and the lines which trace the journey of your eye say to a drawing’s viewer – LOOK. Look at what I saw.
Good journalism doesn’t offer readers answers, it encourages them to ask better questions. When Molly posts up her drawings of people she has met; artists, writers, activists, displaced families, prisoners; you cant help but ask ‘Who are they? What happened to warrant this drawing?’ When the powerful shrink from the prolonged gaze of an artist we have to ask ‘What do they have to hide?’
Molly’s drawings illustrate that the compulsion to draw is a compulsion to look. Or perhaps it is the compulsion to look that requires the process of drawing to give form to what you have seen. Either way, the more you look at the world around you; near or far, the more you will be required to see. Due credit should go to those who, on opening their eyes to the world, are compelled to act on what they have seen. I want to say that Molly Crabapple is the Topolski or Hogarth of our generation, with a good dash of Lautrec in the mix, but perhaps it is doing her a discredit to make any comparisons. Read her articles, look at her pictures and buy her book ‘Drawing Blood’; it is a rich account of her life so far. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
(I always take a sketchbook to talks; it is a good excuse to look at everybody. I met the charming Vice journalist Oz Katerji in the gents after the talk, and he suggested he show my doodles of the talk to Molly afterwards; I snapped a picture of his excellent profile, which I sketched on the train back to Brighton.)
Teaching, drawing, writing and painting.