Liquor Nerd: Art Boozel finds Jennifer Croll paying tribute to modern-art giants with truly daring cocktail creations

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      If modern-art giants like Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, and Banksy taught us anything, it’s that there are no rules except for the ones you make for yourself.

      The importance of challenging audiences fuels performance artist Marina Abramović, photographer Diane Arbus, and bad boy Robert Mapplethorpe. If you’re looking for a through line between the works of Spanish icon Salvador Dalí, sex-obsessed Jeff Koons, and Pacific Northwest indie queen Miranda July, humour is a big one. An appreciation for the beautiful and vibrant in a sometimes grey and ugly world binds together renegades David Hockney, Gustav Klimt, and Sonia Delaunay.

      If all of the above wildly adventurous iconoclasts have one thing in common, it’s that they surface in Jennifer Croll’s new book Art Boozel.

      Subtitled Cocktails Inspired by Modern and Contemporary Artists, the illustrated 144-page outing operates on a couple of levels.
      Croll serves up 59 mini-profiles of art-world rock stars—many you’ll know (Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe, H.R. Giger) and many you’ll learn something about if you don’t (Patricia Piccinini, Petra Collins, and David Shrigley). Accompanying each pocket-size profile/history lesson is an original cocktail recipe by Croll—inspired by the work, style, and personality of the subjects in question. Completing the package are pop-culture-cool original illustrations of each artist by New York artist Kelly Shami.

      In an interview with the Straight, the Vancouver-based Croll says she started working on Art Boozel after 2018’s glowingly reviewed Free the Tipple: Kickass Cocktails Inspired by Iconic Women. The decision to take inspiration from the likes of Jenny Holzer and Louise Bourgeois, as opposed to Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh, was a carefully considered one.

      “I focussed on modern and contemporary art because I find it more interesting,” Croll says. “It’s alive and of the current moment. Modern and contemporary art also allow you to bring a bit more depth and diversity to the people you’re writing about. If you were like ‘Here’s a book about the historical art canon,’ it would just be a bunch of old, dead white guys. The variety of the art was not the same back then. Like, I’m writing about sound artists. That was not really a thing in 1770.”

      Step one was narrowing down the list of renegades, ground breakers, and visionaries.

      “I want people to work well as a collection,” Croll offers. “With Free the Tipple, I talked about coming up with the invite list to your dream dinner party. You want a mix of personalities—you don’t want everyone to be exactly the same. With this one, I was already familiar with most of the people in the book, but there were some new discoveries that I added to the list.

      “I was going for a mix of different types of artists,” she continues. “I didn’t want just painters—I wanted a variety of art to be represented. And I also wanted people from different backgrounds and different countries, different genders and different racial backgrounds. I didn’t want it to be this book with a bunch of white dudes. So there’s a diversity of artists, their practices, and their personalities.”

      That variety proved invaluable when Croll got down to the other major part of Art Boozel: creating the drinks that pay tribute to each artist. Noting that she is neither a trained nor professional bartender, the author does love the art of mixology. Laughing, she reveals that her earliest stabs making drinks consisted of working the blender at house parties.

      Pretty quickly, she began to figure out basic rules like the importance of balancing ingredients, using fresh ice, and when to shake and when to stir. And from there, she began to get creative, that eventually leading to Free the Tipple creations like The Lucille Ball (frozen rosé cubes, strawberry syrup, vodka, and fresh lemon juice) and The Margaret Atwood (light rum, maraschino liqueur, pomegranate juice, lime and apple juice, and a snapdragon garnish.)

      Art Boozel ups the adventurousness.

      The Takashi Murakami starts with soaking 30 Skittles in 8 ounces of sake for four hours, and then—after carefully straining things through a coffee filter—mixing with Gifford Ginger of the Indies liqueur and fresh lime. Don’t forget the gummy octopus garnish—that being a nod to the anime-obsessed Tokyo artist’s favourite animal.

      Takashi Murakami, as illustrated by Kelly Shami for Art Boozel.
      Kelly Shami

      Activated charcoal is the main weapon in The Lee Bul. After using the toxin-absorbing powder (typically made from peat, coconut shells, and sawdust) to make a black ice cube, you drop it in the bottom of a rocks glass. Shake vodka, fresh lemon juice, anise syrup, and a bar spoon of activated charcoal on fresh ice, and strain over the cube. Making an already dramatic tribute to South Korean sculptor Bul even more eye-popping is the silver sugar (check the baking aisle) on the rim of the glass.

      Assuming you’re not already a professional gainfully employed at the Keefer, L’Abattoir, or the Chickadee Room, you’ll elevate your home-mixology game with Art Boozel. And we’re not talking about tweaking a Margarita with a basil leaf, or adding a pinch of chili powder to a Daiquiri.

      Utilizing everything from sumac to Soju and sesame oil, to pink bubblegum to persimmon and prickly pears, the drinks in the book are as colourful as the artists that inspire them.

      “A thing that I’m looking for is having a wide variety of the types of cocktails,” Croll says. “I didn’t want them to be all the same, so having a real varied group of artists helped with that because I’m taking inspiration from their work and their life when I’m making these drinks.”

      As any mixologist—amateur or otherwise—knows, crafting a perfect cocktail takes plenty of trial and error. That’s fine when you’ve got a team working away at the bar, but not so much when you’re a one-woman show experimenting at home.

      With a day-job to get up for (she’s an editor at Greystone Books), and limited time for writing at night and on weekends, Croll’s learned nothing is going to get done if she’s knocking back three or four cocktails a night, including the inevitable mistakes that are part of the creation process.

      “Whenever I’m in the midst of writing a book, you kind of have to drink on weeknights,” she acknowledges. “But I have over time got better at dumping out some of the drinks that don’t work out. If it’s Tuesday night, and I’m making five iterations of a particular drink, I’m not going to sit there and drink all five. I’ll pick the best one, drink that one, and pitch the others.

      “Because I’m writing at the same time I’m making the drinks, I’ve got to keep my focus,” Croll continues. “The other thing that keeps me on track, as much as it creates pressure, is having a day job that I have to get up for. I can’t stay up drinking cocktails and experimenting with them until two in the morning.”

      Don’t, however, let that stop you from, in the spirit of Kehinde Wiley, Tarsila do Amaral, and Richard Prince, making your own rules while working your way through Art Boozel.

      The beauty of the book is that it's both educational and inspirational. After a couple of Matthew Barneys, a Barbara Kruger, and a Tracey Emin, you just might find yourself unleashing your inner painter, sculptor, or video artist at 3 a.m. Mix another Art Boozel drink, and lean into the moment, keeping in mind that Andy Warhol would agree there are worse reasons to call in sick for work. 

      You can buy Art Boozel here