“After 9/11 and the wars that resulted from it, it took artists quite a while to start making serious work about these world events,” remarks curator Joseph R. Wolin. One artist who did respond was Irishman Tom Molloy. Wolin organized an exhibition of Molloy’s works, currently on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Map, the earliest work in the show, dating from 1999, is a $1 bill cut with an X-Acto knife to represent a map of the world. Defacing a dollar bill is a crime, though no one goes to prison for it. The viewer knows that Map is a minor violation, which reminds one of the larger crimes of money. Come to think of it, almost all crimes involve money. Using the techniques of commercial art, Molloy creates advertisements against advertisement.
Not all Molloy’s work is explicitly political. In 2001, he faked a malady to convince a doctor to x-ray his skull, then used the resulting x-ray as a basis for 10 drawings, all called Self-Portrait. One appears in the Aldrich show. “It’s a very meticulous pencil drawing, with minute crosshatching, in a style that’s demanding but not necessarily very individual,” Wolin notes. “His idea is that he wants a generic drawing style that anyone could have.” This semianonymous style makes the piece wittier. (As far as I know, Molloy’s are the first skull self-portraits in history.)
Self-Portrait hangs right across from Dead Texans, a series of small, scrupulous portraits of a hundred prisoners given the death penalty in Texas, most under the tenure of George W. Bush.
Molloy’s brief titles convey multiple meanings. Crown, a group of paper replicas of the most famous Abu Ghraib image, suggests those Burger King crowns children are given on their birthday, and also Jesus’s crown of thorns. “One of the things that Molloy’s practice does is point out that America’s actions effect the entire world,” Wolin explains. “We’re absolutely accountable for what we do.”
For a contemporary artist, Molloy employs conservative methods. This show contains no videos, or digital art. “He’s very much tied to a studio practice,” says Wolin. Molloy particularly enjoys the act of drawing. Almost all his work is done on paper. Though the head of painting at the Burren College of Art, Molloy no longer paints on canvas. “Crown is standing on a pedestal with no protection at all. A gust of wind could knock it away,” Wolin observes. The medium of paper suggests a newspaper, which emotionlessly recounts the daily horrors, only to be used as cat litter or kindling.
Molloy’s work is not “political” so much as “moral.” Do the leaders of the world know that in a rural house outside Ballyvaughan an Irish professor methodically attacks their decisions? Probably not. But Tom Molloy continues, carefully sketching portraits of “faceless victims.”
“Tom Molloy” will be exhibited at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, until June 13. (203) 438-4519; www.aldrichart.org.