David Molesky (b. 1977) is an artist whose oil paintings explore our relationship to the sublime forces of nature. He is interested in the psychology behind the creative process and experiences of awe, as well as the magic of paint—how a goopy amorphous substance can be transformed into illusionistic images capable of arousing empathy and contemplation.
His paintings have been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe and form part of the permanent collections of a number of public museums including the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, Philippines. He is the recipient of artist residencies awarded by the Morris Graves Foundation, California; Fine Art Base, California; the Fundacja Nakielska, Poland; and the Akureyri Art Museum, Iceland. David’s work has been featured in publications that include The Washington Post, New American Painting, American Arts Quarterly, and Hi-Fructose.
“These paintings had an openness and engaged the viewer to continue the painting in their mind’s eye and project into the unpainted areas.”
David grew up on the East Coast and began oil painting in his early teens. By the time he set off to attend UC Berkeley, he’d already made a few hundred paintings and had a sold out solo-exhibition. At Berkeley, David pursued both his passions for art and science while attempting to view his painting process through the lens of neurobiology. After receiving his BA, David made a circuit of apprenticeships with artists whose work drew from the rich history of the figurative tradition. In building his community of peers and mentors, David moved to San Francisco, Seattle, Monterey, Los Angeles, and Europe, before returning to San Francisco where he set up a studio in an antique prop rental warehouse. In 2013 David moved to NYC, eventually settling into a live/work loft in East Williamsburg. The community of artists he’d come to meet in the next seven years deeply inspired and influenced his evolution as a painter and became the subject for a series of articles that he contributed to Juxtapoz magazine.
At the end of 2020, David traveled to Iceland at the invitation of a prominent collector. What was supposed to be a relatively short visit turned into a six month adventure as he was awarded several artist residency programs. During this time of dedicated focus, David further developed his “unfinished” series. These paintings on linen bring a contemporary twist to the tradition of figurative painting by remixing elements from Post-Impressionist drawing with Baroque oil techniques and composition. Through the exposure of the various layers of his process — even down to raw linen — the paintings engage the viewer to fill in the gaps. The visual result of the figure and background appearing to share materiality reinforces David’s aim to depict states of elevated oneness within their environments.
Earlier this year (2022), David left his live/work loft in Brooklyn and has hit the ground running at a wonderful studio space in Raleigh. Here he is producing new paintings to be exhibited in group shows across the country and a solo presentation with Artsuite.
What inspired the series of “unfinished” paintings?
“Besides critical feedback from peers and a natural evolution of my practice, the inaugural exhibition at the Met Breuer was probably influential. Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible contained many rarely seen old master works that, due to their lack of completion, felt extremely contemporary. It was something about exposing the process and the mechanics of the painting combined with the coolness of leaving the work at a stage that called for more paint, rendering, and attention. These paintings had an openness and engaged the viewer to continue the painting in their mind’s eye and project into the unpainted areas. I think the cultural era of Modernism has left viewers with an expectation that their own subjective perspective is the key element that finishes a piece of art. And these centuries-old paintings somehow satisfied these contemporary requirements by being unfinished.”
How did you come to value “unfinishedness” as a desired quality in your own work?
“I’ve always found that beginning a new painting is the most exciting part of the process. I love how an image takes form through a series of accumulated marks. It's like a chess game and I’d often take the opportunity to experiment in these first layers, understanding that I can always add more paint to make it look more realistic.
Often I found these starts to be very intriguing and I would stop mid painting just to observe what was happening. Over time I was beginning to see that these experimental starts were revealing to me a new way of making a painting. ”
How do you consider the layers when creating a painting?
“There are strategies and science behind the techniques of indirect/layered oil painting. After I graduated I chose to apprentice with several painters considered “New-Old Masters” and observed what they do so that they can work on their paintings for a longer period of time. For example, sanding between layers and increasing the oiliness of each successive layer. I also read a stack of material and technique books and had frequent visits to the conservation department at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) to get a deeper understanding of what is happening on the microscopic level in the painting. With an understanding of these basic principals, I began to experiment away from the common approach and store-bought materials. I now make my own paint and sealants from scratch and feel much more satisfied with the results. ”
Tell us about your recent move to Raleigh?
“My parents have lived in Raleigh now for over 25 years. My mother recently retired as the executive assistant to Director Larry Wheeler at the NCMA. So I’ve been visiting, sometimes for many months at a time. It’s home and I’ve just been a nomad…
At the beginning of the year, I moved my art studio from Brooklyn, NY to Raleigh to be closer to my parents. I feel like I can focus more deeply on my work here. Plus, I love helping my parents tend their garden and chickens. My dog Oskar also loves running around in all the extra space. To boot, it's such a lovely community here and I'm really happy to become more involved. ”