To celebrate May Day, New-York-based artist and illustrator Molly Crabapple released hi-res images of her recent collection, Shell Game, on Creative Commons. I have posted five images here; the rest can be found on Crabapple’s website.
The project takes the form of nine 6′x4′ paintings and one 3′x3′ painting, all of which depict and comment upon the various crises, occupations, protests, and revolutions that happened throughout 2011.
The nine large pieces are especially striking, each taking the form of a fairly traditional, though irreverent, allegory. The female figures–embodiments of Debt, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, Hacktivism, and so on–are subject to violent disassembly, but also powerful augmentation.
The Business of Illness is probably my favourite from the series. Crabapple renders America’s healthcare system a bureaucratic machine with a façade of terrifying beauty, which processes the sick–sorting, concentrating, administering, dispensing–converting bodies and lives into revenue. In this painting, the fat cats and mice (which appear in several of the other allegories) seem to me highly reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Whether that connection is deliberate or not, it certainly makes The Business of Illness particularly haunting and contentious.
Crabapple’s burlesque allegories are equal parts sexy and grotesque: for instance, both Debt and Her Debtors and The Great American Bubble Machine recall a some sort of balloon-popping striptease performed by the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee. Upon closer inspection, however, the allure gives way to ambivalence, confusion, and not a little brutality–just like the political-economic malfeasances she lampoons and the Occupy events she celebrates. This tension is deftly summed up by Crabapple herself during a recent interview with Wired, where she comments on the ambiguous relationship between artists and their politics:
Artists are the most lucky little foo-foos in the world. We’ve spent a century excusing every possible hypocrisy and depravity with “But I’m an artist!” A commitment to tell the truth above all else is often challenged when the truth is that your side is behaving badly. I think the best political art comes not out of movements, but out of individual humans, aligned with movements, that have kept their own sympathies, their irreverence, their curiosity, their critical brains.