Drawing Blood and Torta Caprese

“Art gave me a way to see, to record, to fight and interrogate, to preserve love and demand reckoning – to find joy where once I could see only ash. I’d take the world armed only with a sketchbook. I’d make it mine.” – Drawing Blood

The title of Molly Crabapple’s memoir, Drawing Blood, is a play on words capturing the book’s essence: Crapabble has literally drawn blood as an artist and activist; her current success is the result of many hours of work that the metaphor of drawing of blood through labour refers to; and drawing blood in the scientific sense implies that a sample will be analysed, the way she does with her life in her memoir.

Crabapple grew up mostly on Long Island, the only daughter of an artist of Bielorussian descent and a Puerto Rican professor. Her parents divorced when she was seven. Molly Crabapple is the pseudonym she adopted after a friend created a character based on her with that name.

Her memories of childhood and adolescence are candid and humorous. She describes borrowing a book from the library and cutting out the illustrations she liked with a razor blade (coincidentally this is what my cousin did with the copy of Drawing Blood he lent me), going to Paris before starting college and staying at Shakespeare and Company where the words, “be kind to strangers, for they may be angels in disguise” were painted above an archway, and living in New York as an art student trying to make ends meet.

Crabapple worked hard to achieve the success she now knows. She drew Burlesque performers and initiated an innovative form of art class called Dr Sketchy’s that developed a global following. She also captured scenes from New York’s notorious nightclub, The Box, in the years of extravagant excess leading up to the economic crash of 2008. She became involved in the Occupy movement and now works as a journalist and editor, as well as continuing her art projects.

Crabapple is remarkable in her energy, honesty, and constant challenging of her own abilities. Life and art are one and the same for her. This is what has made her one of the most respected political artists of her generation.

I read Drawing Blood shortly after my birthday. Every year I bake a cake for the occasion as a sort of farewell to what has passed. This time I made a flourless chocolate “torta caprese” from Food52. This cake is both bold and subtle, certainly not a wall flower in the world of baked goods.