Molly Rapp interview with Blacklisted Copenhagen

Paint, sculpture, and projecting female strength

Speaking with New York-based artist Molly Rapp about her work and practice of self-photography.

Published: November 11, 2018Words: Molly Rapp & Sophia MillerArtist Link: Girl Studio: @mollsmachine

Art can be a curious thing when it start be see as commodity. I don’t mean commodity in the traditional sense of “products” that can be sold – although that does create its own curiosities. No, what I am referring to is looking at art from the perspective of something which can be objectified and consumed. When someone is directing their gaze upon it, they are consuming it, transforming it, and shaping it with their own subjective beliefs and understandings.

This becomes particularly curious with art that has no formal commodity to sell, or in the case of New York artist Molly Rapp, art where the artist themselves has put their own body in the center of the work. Exposing your own body to the scrutiny, judgment, and opinion of an audience is in many ways far more daring than presenting a static physical object – such as a painting, sculpture or installation.

With Molly Rapp, putting herself in the center of many of her creative expressions is part catharsis, part self-ownership, and part conceptual meaning. This particular type of artistic expression presents a number of risks and criticism. When one is both artist and art, one carries the weight of all the positive and negative judgments of both.

Molly Rapp is a trained photographer, and while she does create works that are physical artworks – paintings and sculpture – she also shares a lot of her online presence through a photographic discipline of making herself the photographic subject. A weekly practice and platform which she calls Sad Girl Studio.

What separates Molly from the hoards of teen idols sporting duck-lips and Lululemon, is the lack of self-aggrandizing in her portraits. Forsaking the traditional patriarchal strutting aesthetics of “see how I look,” her photography implies more a feminist emotion of “see how I feel.” Her practices which she has developed in her Sad Girl Studio are more personal, more brave, and more intrinsic to how one woman expresses her feelings about her own body and womanhood.

Aside from her work as a photographer, I became curious about how her paintings and sculptures fit into her artist practice. I also wanted to speak with her about her thoughts on feminist artist expression on a digital platform – something that has become marketing necessity – and how she separates herself from the selfie culture.

Molly Rapp interview with Blacklisted Copenhagen
Molly Rapp interview with Blacklisted Copenhagen

Your education is in photography, but looking through the oeuvre of your work, you work more with paintings and installation. How do you use your photographic knowledge and discipline in your work?

I graduated with a BFA degree in photography. I work at a photo organization in NYC, Penumbra Foundation and I teach photographic processes at School of Visual Arts, so photography is ingrained in my everyday life.

Photography came to me early on; I did a lot of self-portraiture. I later came to discover historic photographic processes, which are tactile by nature and elevated this idea of an image object. This hands-on approach gave me the freedom to abstract the figure (me) from the photograph entirely, and the paintings I create are as much of a self-portrait as the work I was making photographically.

My painting and sculpture now are very much informed by my body and its impact with my materials. What remains is an artifact of experience. It was the immediacy & impulsiveness (of painting and sculpture) I was drawn to, and I find photography to be too limiting for me in terms of scale and technicality. I don’t want to think about composition, aperture, I just want to feel.

In your most recent work, you’ve been working with some somewhat unconventional mediums – pomegranate juice, dye made from rust, and reclaimed metals. Tell me about the conceptual research behind this work?

With pomegranate juice I admit I cannot help but think of Persephone, and in that piece which is a performance I am sucking the juice out of the pomegranate with the caption “I woke up craving a woman” and in that narrative I identify with both Persephone, a woman, who is lured by Hades, which I would call my inner demons.

Process is everything, and I am drawn to materials that I must work for like the rust stains extracted from metal. I used to collect metal from the streets, one of my pieces, Anima, used the rust of a huge tire rim that was discarded. My work revolves around ideas of creation and destruction, a cycle of creating things, destroying them, and then recreating them. The same goes for my materials, they are discarded or meant to be and then I turn them into something else – like squeezing them of their last breath.

Molly Rapp interview with Blacklisted Copenhagen

Aside from your own personal work as a practicing artist, you’ve created an artist collection call Sad Girl Studio. Can you tell me about that?

Sad Girl Studio is very precious to me. I have ‘Sad Girl’ tattooed on my left hand, the concept is recognizing commonly shamed feelings, such as sadness, and viewing them in the same light as positive feelings. What has helped me connect to others through some of my darkest times, has been art. By visualizing the feeling and turning into a huge object on the wall, I feel in control. This emotion is no longer suppressed and doesn’t own me anymore.

For now, Sad Girl Studio is based out of my home where I make art. Every Sunday, I share a new piece on Instagram, calling it #SadGirlSunday. This serves as an artistic discipline, while also creating a brand for myself. I struggle with depression, eating disorders and self-destructive behaviors I think having art as an outlet (in conjunction with a lot of therapy) has inspired me to eventually turn Sad Girl Studio into a safe place where other creatives can express themselves freely – whether that is exploring their sexuality, mediums, tapping into trauma and vulnerability to find their authentic voice through art.

Speaking of Instagram. As a platform it has fundamentally changed the way artists market themselves, making it accessible to anyone. That said, it has, in some ways, removed the “exclusivity” that the art industry relies on. As an artist that used the platform as a medium, how do you feel it has affected or influenced your career?

Instagram has its advantages and disadvantages, and I think the art market is as much of a game as it ever has been. That said, I think breaking down the exclusivity of the art world is great. Everyone, especially artists, feel they need to be heard and I see nothing wrong with having more voices– so long as their continues to be a dialogue.

Artists have always engaged in self-portraiture in some form, but the selfie culture has allowed everyone to engage in artistic narcissism. Where do you draw the line between expression and ego?

I could argue that my work is heavily influenced by my body and its direct impact on the medium but I would be lying if I said I also wasn’t just trying to look good. It’s in my nature to be diaristic. Not only am I in control of the way you’re seeing me and the work but it’s also a marker – “this is how I felt today, this is where I am at with this piece”. Someone recently commented that when they see my posts, suddenly everything gets “dark and moody” and followed up with a “nothing personal” and I was like, No, it’s okay, it IS personal and I can definitely be dark and moody but I can also be sexy, sarcastic, and happy too.

What areas do you see the future of your work expanding into?

My work is starting to outgrow my space. My fantasy is that Sad Girl Studio has grown outside of my apartment and is a working space for other artists. But it would be great to have more space and delve more into installation work & performance work. I feel those are two areas I dabble with but have left to be fully explored.