Fire from Beneath

by David Molesky // Edited by Matthew Burgess, New York: Secretary Press

David Molesky — First Studio, 2015 | oil on canvas board, 12×9 in

From a young age, I drew my favorite subjects with repetitive force. Some drawings included battles between machines that resembled those I had constructed with Lego sets. I preferred spaceships made with gray Lego blocks and brightly colored transparent add-ons that represented lights and laser beams. Others contained monsters whose bodies and heads were alterations of the letter c or s. This series might have contributed to the difficulty I had distinguishing between those sounds, and why I needed speech therapy. I drew imagery from memory, or invented it by playing upon each successive mark-like a game of exquisite corpse. I dabbled in photo-based figurative work by drawing many of the action figures depicted in my older brother’s baseball cards.

One day, I removed all the coats from the ground-floor walk-in closet. Then I dragged my wooden school desk into the empty space. The desk had a cubby below the seat and a small table surface connected by a wooden arm. The miniaturized version, designed for a toddler, made the snug space seem spacious. I’d pull the long cord, ignite the single light bulb, shut the door, and go to work. I taped finished drawings onto the walls and pulled new paper from the cubby below my seat. I wore a dress shirt and clip tie with a blue blazer affixed with a pilot pin in honor of my grandfather, who flew WW2 supply planes over Burma.

I was terrified of our basement. I would stand at the top of the steps looking into the darkness and proclaim, “There are spooks down there.” But intense curiosity gave rise to bravery, and I ventured into the dark caverns. To ensure my safe passage, I studied the furnace, which confronted me with roars and flames. A box in the shadows drew me closer. I rummaged its contents finding an accordion file closed by a string clasp. I had discovered an ancient tomb densely filled with cartoon-like renderings and carried the bundle above ground to investigate its origins. I discovered that my father had made them as a teenager, a surprise because I had never seen him draw.

My older brother strengthened me through relentless teasing and challenges. He asked if I would like a dragon drawing. I said, “Yes!” I wanted to watch him draw it. He refused. When he completed the fantastical rendering he handed it to me. I was at once envious and intrigued; I hungered to make something so beautiful. I begged him to share his technique, but the denial continued, stoking my desire to master drawing.

In the classroom, a large piece of paper swallowed all of my senses. When I stepped back to see my efforts, I recalled the contexts of my surroundings. I noticed everyone looking over each other’s shoulders, collectively drawing the same image and it wasn’t what I was doing. My teacher was quick to respond to the building look of terror on my face. She assured me I was actually doing something right.

A few years later, my mother and I came across a He-Man sponsored drawing competition for children in the mall. A group of uniformed organizers handed each participant two sheets of paper. I invented a dragon woman with muscles and a spiky tail that trailed down her spine, combining Wonder Woman sexiness and the shocking otherness found in superhero mutants. Everyone else seemed to be drawing characters that already existed on the He-Man cartoon television show. On the second sheet of paper, I decided to join the conversation and drew my favorite character, Orko, a misfit elf wizard who provided comedic relief around his muscle-bound co-stars. Several weeks later, my mother got a call that my Dragon Woman won the competition and I was awarded a telephone in the shape of a sword. I later heard that Dragon Woman became a character on the show.

When my family was still living in Washington DC—around the time when I created my walk-in-closet studio—I had an auspicious dream. Maybe its intense vividness was brought on by an overdose of Flintstone chewable vitamins. Regardless, it was very real.

We entered what seemed the lobby of a large bank. After a quick exchange with someone behind a large circular desk, we headed left down a hall and down a set of stairs. The underground space was about six times larger than the lobby and was lit only by cages of fire. The cages were square-shaped at the base and extended up to the ceiling. The light was so intense that it allowed only subtle indi- cations of the presence of figures that moved about the flames. Sometimes a shadow would move across a distant wall or a breeze-like flicker of distortion would momentarily eclipse the light. These sensations stirred my curiosity… What were these beings doing here? My mother and I made our way to the staircase that led back to the ground floor. I trailed behind her up the stairs as my smaller legs prohibited me from moving quickly. I noticed some of the people who were among the caged fire had followed me. It was clear from their body language that they wanted to meet me, and were maybe slightly concerned that the opportunity was passing.

Just before I reached the top of the stairs, they intercepted me. Somehow, they knew I really like applesauce and offered me some. I gladly ate the delicious mashed apples out of the bowl they provided me. However, I lost track of my mother. I thanked my new acquaintances and headed to the lobby in search of her. But she had left. She forgot about me. I went up to a man who I took to be a police officer and told him my name and asked if he could help me get home. I was driven home not in a police car but in a red convertible. When I arrived home, it wasn’t a big deal. I curled up on the couch for a nap. When I woke up, I was in the same place where I fell asleep in my dream.

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