A Portrait of the Artist as a Kohl-Eyed Entrepreneur

Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple has never struggled to get the internet’s attention. Born in New York, the visual artist has a saucy flair for the cruel and gorgeous, embracing a decadent world of burlesque, nudity and subversive politics. From decorating some of the world’s most glamorous nightclubs to founding a burlesque cabaret workshop, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, Crabapple’s art empire strikes against the bohemian maxim ‘I am an artist, therefore I despise wealth’.

On the contrary Crabapple is a roaring American success story. By mastering the internet she controls her own financial destiny and this alone will upset some purists, as artists have traditionally rejected materialism. Making money from art goes against the ruinous fantasies of bohemians who live for the moment.

Poverty has traditionally defined an artist’s career, a garret lifestyle cliché of half-grooved eccentrics and drunken poets who believe art can only flourish where material comforts are absent. With the advent of crowdsourcing in the 21st century starving artists can now queue in Waitrose for lunch, if they are successful of course.

Her latest project the Shell Game received $64, 799 from 701 backers on Kickstarter, which will fund nine massive paintings about the collapse of the banking system. It may even pay the rent, grocery bill and six bottles of absinthe too. Why should an artist have to starve for their craft?

Everyone should welcome that an artist can now make a real living out of their creative gifts without starving or working for an insurance company. Uncompromising men and women are easy to admire but artists who subvert from within live to tell the tale.

“As any strawberry picker can tell you, hard work and nothing else is a fast road to nowhere.”

– Molly Crabapple

Through sheer force of personality and brilliant marketing, Crabapple has skillfully cultivated a subversive underground image. Arrestingly beautiful she could easily pop out of a traditional Western European fairytale and with her phosphorescent eyes and gothic baby doll aesthetic, the New Yorker looks like a painting. Luminous cheekbones bereft of intellect or character will only capture your attention for so long though.

And while no one should doubt her unseen hours of dedication, Crabapple’s anti-establishment credentials are very suave; the kohl-eyed darling of Occupy Wall Street trended after her arrest by the NYPD in September 2011. You don’t need to be a social media node to realise that #freemollycrabapple will do wonders for your marketing potential.

Eaeyoepotynia

While it may have been romantic for artists to suffer in the inter-war era, the crowd sourcing phenomenon of the twenty-first century provides a new model. Why should the wealthy have the sole reserve over the arts? Anyone who purports not to care about money either has too much or doesn’t need it. Crabapple in this respect is a modern inspiration and should be applauded for her glamour inspired riches. Romantics may starve in dismay but aspiration and the arts no longer have to be mutually exclusive.

Experiments in Living

Arguably the most beautiful tribute night in the world, Future Cinema’s Casablanca pays homage to the 1940s. With queues of fur coats and dashing bibs shivering outside, there is a gorgeous moment on arrival, when the Troxy simply bursts into life. Where everyone wants to fall in love and get married in the rain.

Downstairs where the émigrés gather, guests are serenaded by a Dixieland Jazz Band playing soft, melting and ravishingly iconic tunes. Strolling down the stairs for the first time is a magical experience, one you could record a million times and never recapture.

Sparkling underneath a pink ornamental panel, Casablanca feels like a tribute to people who don’t go out during the day – those who live off the grid and make a living by their wits. A subversive experience infiltrated by actors. Remember not everyone has paid a booking fee to enter.

Future Cinema brilliantly tap into the golden age theory in what is a profound cultural shift dictated by nostalgia. Furthermore there is now a plethora of sing-a-long nights, retrospective screenings and 1950s dance hall nights taking place – we are all collectively obsessed with the past.

Whatever happened to here and now?

Sartorial fashions have not ceased to exist in the twenty-first century. There are motifs of present day society everywhere you look – baby faced beards, iPhones, electro DJ sets and memes to name just a few. There is a distinctive visual culture taking place. Eclecticism, irony and peer-to-peer fragmentation will probably form a neo-future cinema event in 2090.

And your life inside the black mirror will be mythologized as romantic as the cinematic émigrés of 1940s Morocco. What you are going through now is a truly fascinating experience. One that is completely unprecedented in human history – we are the glamour virgins of a new found century.

 “I always hear people saying ‘Oh, I’d love to live in the 60’s where everyone is dressed so glamorously’, what’s stopping them from putting on something wonderful tonight?”

– Tom Ford

Social media audiences are no longer content to passively watch an old film in silence – they now want to take part in a ‘live experience’. Everything is interactive now, even the past. By seamlessly merging real time actors with technology, unattainable worlds can now be entered like never before. And remember this is just the beginning. A new matrix is being created where the past can be endlessly revisited.

Separated from our own universe, the Troxy captures the romantic essence of Casablanca. Indeed the art deco cinemas of the 1920s and 1930s are some of the most optimistic statements ever made in stone.

By transforming London’s most beautiful inter-war venue into Rick’s Cafe Americain, dressing up for a golden era taps into a strange cinematic homesickness. It’s a gorgeous experience overall, where men are gentlemen and girls are extraordinarily pretty. Just remember what happened off camera probably didn’t seem that glamourous at the time.

Soerditch: A Diary of a Neighbourhood

On recently being interviewed by Harry Potter with a beard in an East London warehouse, I left feeling somewhat disconcerted. Start ups are invariably formed by young people and the “Creative Director” interviewing me must have been no older than twenty-two. Here I stumbled upon the modern zeitgeist and felt like a pawn in a profound demographic shift; one where age is irrelevant and children born and shaped by the internet will rule the world.

Despite living in Hoxton for nearly three years I’ve never fully embraced the East London lifestyle. Self-consciously quirky and dripping with acid, even the street art appears alien and vacant. With the big drinks and footwear corporations imitating the guerrilla artists in Great Eastern Street, I sometimes struggle to differentiate between rebellion and multi-national profit.

When young residents tweet references to themselves as “wankers” as a form of cheery endearment, it’s like we’re all permanently trapped inside a hyper-capitalist matrix where nothing will ever change. Post-modernism is a passive condition entirely dependent on technology. Ironic mocking is therefore all we have left.

By paying homage to media fashions, converts will embrace parody to demonstrate their wit and intelligence but they are born within this system and can never leave. There is no future, only a recycled past.

Satirising a contemporary urban world, Adam Dant‘s cartoon exhibition Soerditch, Diary of a Neighbourhood offers an irreverent guide to Shoreditch. Embracing an irreverent newspaper aesthetic, Dant’s sketches provide a mocking guide to the area’s post-1993 residents. And what is most striking about “Tech City” and its glitterati of Wifi-workers, street food vendors and Harry Potter capitalists is the abandonment of history.

There are no longer any relationship with the dead and the Victorian furniture factories have long been scrubbed clean of their industrial residuum. With East London’s past shucked out within a generation, the old warehouses and churches are like fumigated skulls. They are merely an interim host that will exchange hands every thirty years.

While the deceased residents of Shoreditch are ignored their buildings live on vicariously without them. Originally assembled by coarse working hands, there is a natural hierarchy with age and somehow an older building is considered more ‘real’ than something new. History provides an emotional backbone that modernity with all its superficialities and globalised rootlessness cannot.

By mapping this technological and leisure society, Dant’s cartoons provides a wry sense of character and warmth to the area. Shoreditch’s transformation from industrial workshop to a consumer paradise is just another step along the road towards our final destination as archaeology. The Roman Empire lies crushed underneath East London’s converted warehouses and over time Shoreditch will follow suit – a pop up world waiting to collapse.

Forlorn rags of growing old

Sitting in a transparent glass case, about 120-foot-long, lies Jack Kerouac’s antidote to the forlorn rags of growing old at the British Library. Magnificent with all its creases, sellotaped edges and typos, Kerouac’s soul aspiring work of art commands a gasped silence. A stunning cathartic monument trapped inside an air-conditioned case that I once read On the Road (albeit the edited one – nobody told me at the time) in solemn isolation over a decade ago.

On reading the beat novel as a seventeen-year-old, I recall the fantasy, hedonistic sex and panoramic visions of America. Not something I could truly comprehend as a skeleton youth in northern Scotland, but I fondly recall writing down passages about purple grapes, whore houses, the fire cracking candles  and “looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad”.

This beautiful elegiac sigh once greeted me in a teenage love letter and formed the basis of a melodramatic Facebook status update many years later. Then as you get older and meet greater minds with even greater books, the Beat Generation feels rather clichéd and predictable. It isn’t either of those things but who doesn’t now yawn when they read about Route 66?

On pouring over the holy beat scroll at the British Library, I reminded myself that writing should be the rhythmic articulation of feeling. A sacred totem against mediocrity, sub-editing and the SEO inspired destruction of the English language, Kerouac’s words remain a soaring inspiration. Written in three weeks, single-spaced without paragraphs and corrected in pencil, his words are soaring, brave and utterly mesmerising. 

In a way you have to start writing before you turn thirty because in your late teens and early twenties you have absolutely no self-awareness. The sediments of your personality are tantalisingly incomplete and unbridled magic can still be spun. Age is a social construct – a conception of behaviour, attitudes and deeds but you do get tired eventually and experience is not always a good thing. It can act in barrier in a way and I suppose it’s an oxymoron to suggest you can rediscover your own naivety?

On this note, I will leave this post to some random American teenager, who unwittingly captured the spirit of On the Road on Facebook and funnily enough no one over the age of 30 could possibly get away this. More’s the pity because on walking around that transparent glass cage, I too want to turn this into something different, get out more often and be in more photographs.

On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll will be on display at the British Library until Thursday 27th December 2012.

Dieter Roth Diaries

Skipped behind my bookcase lies a collection of diaries and notebooks I have curated over the years. They serve no purpose. A decade’s worth of illiterate jottings, betting plans, groceries, to-do-lists and scored out lines. With inspired quotes squashed in the margins justifying their existence, I keep filling out notebooks and skipping them alongside their older colleagues. A scrapheap of memories no one will ever read.

German artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998) undergoes a similar process but unlike me his diaries are being exhibited at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. Documenting his life through the medium of art, sculpture and writings, Roth’s dystopian centrepiece Solo Scenes is a CCTV installation that recorded his final year on earth.

Commanding squeamish levels of attention, the 128 video tapes show Roth brushing his teeth, sleeping and painting alone like a melancholy tramp. By filming the sheer banality of his everyday existence, Roth has revealed the seemingly innate human desire to turn everything into a routine. These homely reminders of grocery lists, gifts to buy, domestic chores to be completed and a bubbled note commanding you to pay the gas bill by the fifteenth.

Likewise my old notebooks remain firmly in place behind the bookshelf and I consistently refuse to bin any of them. In some respects they are physical reminders of my narcissistic desire to be exhibited just like Dieter Roth. That my life actually meant something. But if I am lucky they’ll eventually be boxed and kept upstairs in an oak wooden loft.

Maybe they’ll be sparingly reopened for an old quote or a nostalgic rummage through the past. Only to be put back in their place again, a written bond with a young man that no longer exists. Where just like my childhood toys locked away in my family home, these notebooks will keep on ageing, and eventually become Grandad’s possessions. And then over the passages of time they will find themselves skipped. Quality control. A lifetime of thoughts destined to lie unread on a skip.

I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in that way.
You’d not believe the things you find on skips.

Dieter Roth Diaries will be running at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until October 27th.

Blink

Kindred spirits are often romanticised in modern culture, but Blink is a little more surrealist in tone. A character play set in a world just like our own, Jonah and Sophie talk about a voyeuristic love story and one fitting of a society obsessed with making connections.

Written by English playwright Phil Porter, Blink addresses how virtuality has become the next phase of evolution; a world in which you can fall madly in love with complete strangers before even making a call. An online commune of language, love and dreams created entirely with words and grainy pixels – a fantasy world where you write all the rules.

Running at the Ed Fringe throughout August, Blink relies on two protagonists – an impish northern nerd Jonah (Harry McEntire), who somewhat unconvincingly emerges from a Presbyterian boot camp with a flair for voyeurism. Meanwhile the wonderfully gifted Sophie (Rosie Wyatt) has been looking after her dying father and loses her job in a software company for a perceived ‘lack of visibility’.

It this lack of visibility that crystallises the essence of Phil Porter’s play, where Jonah follows Sophie (with her loving consent) on a webcam and they both take solace from their weird and childlike sense of isolation. It is something they cannot necessarily touch but can only feel. They inhabit a world in where virtual souls find love in the anonymity of strangers.

For you see loneliness doesn’t necessarily stem from being on your own. Solitude can or will inevitably contribute but even those with regular human company can feel lonely. It is the inability to share private thoughts, desires and acute observations with like minded souls that accentuates many people’s sense of isolation.

Like sitting on a bus two rows behind a stranger you’re to painfully shy too approach, the same aches and desires apply and in many ways it can be even more painful. Blink is a story about love. A story about how it’s easier to confess all to a bleeping box on Facebook than it is to call a childhood friend. To lapse into an inexplicable world where you believe the other to be perfect. When you haven’t even heard their voice and as quicksands of love shift, which they always do, you blink and the feeling has gone.

Blink runs at the Traverse Theatre until August 26th and the Soho Theatre from Wed 29 August – Sat 22 September. 

Boys

Boys is a brilliant angry piece of writing that captures the indignation and apathy of the modern era. Europe is facing the cold bloom of austerity (the history books are already been written) and in a five-man student kitchen in Edinburgh, four young boys are facing a future that has no place for them. On approaching the fag end of their final term, the party is almost over for the boys, and in the kitchen lies a Barclays sign – ‘We’ll loan you the best years of your life’ – just like Greece.

An unexplained death hovers over the student debris of spilt cereal, tea cups and celebrity posters as Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam face uncertain futures. Is being young really as good as it gets? Throughout Europe new graduates will come to realise this summer that aspiration has its melancholy consequences. Living in a neo-Thatcherite world, I think it’s probably a good thing we don’t know what the future holds. Many people quickly realise, through no fault of their own, that the age of potential is the briefest of windows.

Although it goes without saying that the vast majority of people in the UK will survive comfortably enough in the decades to come. First world problems have to be put into a global context. However, I think the sadness and anger descends from a brooding sense of unfulfillment and the searching emptiness of never being able to achieve anything.

The politics of identity have long since surpassed ideological principle and success is wearily defined by ‘timing, image and nepotism – so always try and be in the right place at the right time, suck as much cock as you can and find a way to be better looking than God intended you’. Timing, image and nepotism – it rings uncomfortably true doesn’t it?

Something wholly dependent on luck and self-confidence inherited from wealthy families and postcode approved schools. There are now almost three million people aged 20-34 still living at home and that number is only like to rise as slow economic growth, an ageing population and exploitative rents stunt any hope of renewal.

Like a revisionist version of Peter Pan there is a sadness in boys final days and the agnostic helplessness of a generation that no longer has anything to believe in. Ella Hickson captures this angst beautifully and provides a universal message  for our times, where one’s youth appears to be only commodity but as many people soon find out these years are loaned to you too.

Boys runs at the Soho Theatre until June 16th 2012

Joy in People

Evoking memories of student bedrooms and NME inspired collages, Jeremy Deller’s pop-art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery throws open his cupboard for all to see. Almost like a counter-culture riposte to the hedonism of the New Labour years, Joy in People, offers a sweeping nineties retrospective.

Indeed his vision of the decade appears to pine inwards towards the 1980s – a hangover of union brass bands, strong armed marches, Margaret Thatcher, cups of tea and weekly music magazines. Every decade has to be historically collectivised in some way. In that respect this exhibition is a museum of old ideas. A collision of forces that formed and peaked during the passive consumerism of the Blair years.

One rock band in particular, the Manic Street Preachers, form the social heartbeat of the exhibition. With the 1997 fanzine project ‘The Uses of Literacy’ being reinstalled for new audiences, it pays tribute to the obsessive fan culture that surrounded the band in the mid-nineties.

Literary quotes, paintings, confessional stories and some fucking awful poetry, the exhibition never veers too far away from an alternative kid’s bedroom. Music is fleeting in that respect. Most people’s inspirational touchstones are formulated from the ages of 14 to 22 and slowly ebb away with each passing year. The pressures of earning a living and the cyclical nature of youth culture pay heed to that.

*Offering my own tribute, written as a 24 year old, I recall a diary piece I wrote as the lights of fan worship were dimming if not completely dying out. Below is my recollection of my last ever Manics gig at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange in April 2005. It’s my late, late offering to Jeremy Deller. If only to serve as a reminder of how quickly one’s memories can become an exhibit in a museum.

Monday, April 18th 2005 

Paradise City

After watching my girlfriend collapse in a bucket in tears on my bed I realised I had made a mistake. I felt incredibly guilty but I was scared of being disappointed and I didn’t want my ragged feelings ruining everybody else’s night. I changed my mind of course and later on that afternoon we were in Edinburgh rummaging for sailor suits and jumpers inside a 20th Century clothes shop. I knew then that I had made the right decision. There are some happy memories in the capital and walking through the historic Old Town in the rain was beautiful, it was almost like my footsteps were being drawn in ink.

The Manics were the major pulling factor and they were playing the Corn Exchange, which is deep in the suburbs and we arrived late that evening and the venue looked like an abandoned swimming pool. The rectangle white hall was much smaller than I expected and consequently there was very little room to manoeuvre. James Dean Bradfield looked muscular and extremely fit, while Nicky Wire was really tall and danced around on stage like a glittering Welsh salmon. The Manics reached their saturation point years ago and it felt strange seeing them live again. There was something serene and ghostly calm about them, previous landmark singles that were once powerful statements had now become cabaret and were played with a jukebox familiarity.

I did feel the Manics were slightly cabaret in places, the Holy Bible moments however were absolutely amazing, especially Of Walking Abortion and If White America, which were like vicious snarling scabs and for blurring white seconds I felt like I was obsessed and eighteen all over again. There was also Roses in the Hospital and they ended with a crashing version of Motown Junk, which started off with Paradise City by Guns and Roses and it was coolest send off ever! The thudding drums whipped the crowd to a chaotic frenzy and it was the perfect ending to a heavenly evening. It was the goodbye moment I had always wanted. 

Dreams of a Life

In 2003, the skeleton of 38-year-old Joyce Carol Vincent was discovered in a North London bedsit with the television still on. She had been dead for three years. Her remains were found alongside half-wrapped Christmas presents and the haunting flicker of BBC One. Joyce’s body was so badly decomposed she could only be identified by comparing dental records with an old holiday photograph of her smiling. How she died doesn’t actually matter.

What is truly shocking is how someone could remain dead for three years without anybody noticing. In a ghoulish tale of neglect and social dislocation, Dreams of a Life is a story about youth, friendship and missed opportunities. With no family and her four sisters refusing to take part, the docudrama pieces together Joyce Vincent’s anonymous life.

Directed by Carol Morley, the film interviews a handful of former-work colleagues, who reminisce about the water cooler moments and office parties they shared with Joyce in the 1980s. Now in their forties, there was unnerving sense of how our loves and opportunities narrow with each passing year. How meaningful their friendship with Joyce stretched beyond the superficialities of office small talk is questionable. Likewise her ex-flatmates appeared genuine but again unaware of her true character. Nobody it seemed knew Joyce Vincent.

A vivacious and charismatic girl in her prime, the former City girl had never been shy of male attention. However, like so many troubled women, men were a shady reference in her life. With her emotional rock coming in the shape of a bird-faced colleague, she drifted in and out of a series of broken relationships and spent her final years in a women’s refuge.

With the gaps in the narrative proving frustratingly esoteric towards the end, the story of Joyce Vincent’s life remains incomplete. Set in the early 2000s and in the absence of the social networking websites that dominate our lives today, Joyce left this world without even a missed call. It is bad enough turning forty let alone living on your own.

As the years slowly become decades, friends will inevitably come and go and a once beautiful, popular woman ended up spending her final moments utterly alone. Like a modern tale from Edgar Allen Poe the bank continued to pay her bills but nobody wrote or called. Invisible transactions kept on flowing all the while a scrambled television poured life into Joyce Vincent’s unvisited tomb.

The Pen is Dead

Letter writing is an increasingly rare occurrence these days. With the rise of smartphones, there are simply more convenient ways of expressing our feelings. As a frequent note jotter myself, I despair at the slow disintegration of my own handwriting. Although I do take solace in that I still compose my thoughts in legible English, as the shape of most people’s written ovals, loops and slants has been in terminal decline for decades now.

Writing a letter to your friend has almost become a Victorian anachronism; something quaint and romantic but no longer necessary. Like revitalising dead languages in areas they were never originally spoken, letter writing has become a sentimental way to communicate.

Chatting online is more convenient nowadays but handwriting forces you to slow down, to think, to form your thoughts more carefully. Everybody’s handwriting will die out eventually without regular practice. Each year I witness my handwriting deteriorate and I still scribble my thoughts down on a regular basis. But note jotting doesn’t require anywhere near the same level of discipline as writing a letter.

There is something about pressing the tip of a pen against a page and watching your thoughts form right in front of you. Letter writing is a genuinely cathartic experience and it helps you remember things, unlike any messages you may compose online. There is no undo button in real life.

As a former teenage boy of letters, I feel something has been lost by the instant muses of mobile technology. When composing your thoughts on paper, the writer has to form relationships entirely dependent on their written skills. Letter writing is certainly a more genuine way to express your feelings.

Receiving a handwritten letter in the post will always feel more meaningful than a hastily composed email or Facebook message. In fact putting pen to paper feels almost too personal now. Composing something online is easier because the medium provides a cloak of anonymity that a pen cannot provide.

With the evolutionary demise of handwriting being predicted by some experts, there is a now a romantic movement trying to restore the art of letter writing. The Domestic Sluts are kicking off a debate in London this week about social media and how our letter writing has changed since we started emailing. Does it really matter that we don’t write by hand anymore?

On a practical level it doesn’t matter as our need to communicate has never been driven by romantic sentiment. Once technology is established in people’s lives, it doesn’t go away. Indeed the very existence of a restoration movement suggests letter writing is dead already.

Romantic movements are meaning well but they are niche by their very nature. Letter writing was never meant to be a kitsch lifestyle choice. Letters are now exhibited as period pieces in retrospective galleries, where once they lay on the porch floor awaiting to be torn open. With the rise of modern technology we arguably exchange more messages and communicate than ever before. Progress is inevitable but as our handwriting passions slowly die, it sometimes comes at a price.