By John Anderson
First published in Washington City Paper, January 9th, 2015
For the past six years, something seems to be burning in David Molesaky’s paintings. If it wasn’t the setting sun off the Pacific coast of California, it was the wildfires burning in the mountains around it. In the past couple of years, that burning shifted with the winds. In “RIOT,” now on view at the Fridge, Molesky’s works smolder with political fervor.
On Fire: “BOЛЯ” (above) depicts a foreboding dystopia. Black smoke billows from tire-fueled flames. A broken-down truck sits in the road, vandalized with the Russian word BOЛЯ—which, in this context, either means “willpower” or “freedom.” In the foreground, two figures hurl missiles at an unseen opponent. One is in mid-throw, clutching a rock; he remains anonymous, his identity shrouded by hat and hood. His comrade, dressed in a blue and white chevron-striped jacket, is more vulnerable without mask or helmet. He’s every bit the contemporary analogue to Michelangelo’s David, sizing up the unseen Goliath.
There He Goes Again: The chevron-striped man appears in two other compositions in this exhibition. In one painting, he gathers chunks of concrete with a flock of demonstrators of various ages, some wearing helmets and masks, who throw rubble at the opposition. In another print, he’s alone, closer to letting his Molotov cocktail loose. While the setting remains the same—the burning bus, the stairs, the tiger poster—his fellow agitators change, though in the print, the chevron man is alone. The repeated elements suggest the passing of time amidst the chaos and this character’s fearless resolve to stay put and keep fighting.
Anywhere, or Here: Although the compositions have a journalistic flair, they’re composites. Pulling references from contemporary images of civil unrest, some paintings, with their graffiti, directly suggest Ukraine. Other works are more difficult to place. The orange glow of a city on fire could just as easily be Egypt, Venezuela, or Ferguson, Mo. Absent of origin, politics, or identity, it’s easy to embrace the side of the rioter. He’s the little guy, the underdog without the riot gear.
Honey Badger Doesn’t Give a Shit: Despite the primary focus of urban chaos, the quieter elements of the exhibition are, in a way, more shocking: animals against a backdrop of burning skies. The painting “Polar Weasel” (above) depicts the subject standing proudly, prey dangling from its jaws. The weasel gives little consideration to the world burning behind it, and as long as it’s left alone, that fire is none of its business. It’s an apropos metaphor: There are too many on the sidelines just watching this thing burn.