16 de Marzo, 2008
La Molina and the Tale of Naked Dave
NAKED DAVE IS DEAD. And if you know nothing of La Molina and the tale of Naked Dave, then even the name "Naked Dave" may mean nothing to you. For while the obit for the creator of the Rocketeer character tells us a few things about Dave Stevens, it does not tell of the young girl he met in the 70s, impregnated, treated cruelly, abandoned, and then found later to rekindle her hopes only to dash them to the ground again. A girl who would not forget their interactions so quickly.
But I know that girl. Or rather, woman. She is not a girl anymore. Nor was she when I met her a couple years back. She was then, as she is now, a fiery and dedicated artist, a strong woman who brooks no bullshit from any man (yet I cannot remember her ever donning the verbal mantle of "Feminist"), a hardcore Xicana, a drinking buddy, an actress, and a friend.
For the story of Naked Dave, I'm better off referring you to her website. And it is quite a story, especially the part regarding what she did with what she was left with. The part where she made Dave, yes, her "obsession" though I hesitate to call it such, to use such reductive language. Because I think her story reeks of injustice, pain, and earned sorrow—and yet, an unexpected twist and delivery of a rare (if unforgiving and unrelenting) sort of justice, where the sex/power roles are turned on their head, and a girl who might normally be forgotten in the dustbin of a more well-known man's past instead has empowered herself and her experience and given it uncomfortable shape in a procession of oil paintings wrenched from the raw parts of the soul. It is an aggressive stance and a recaptured sense of power that makes many (men) uncomfortable, and La Molina has her enemies, many of them comic book fans of The Rocketeer, and obviously sympathizers to Dave's telling of the story. (I have never heard that telling).
When I met Molina's story, and the intensity of and persistence of her focus and the depth of her rage, I was not unmoved. And I understood why some (men) might find it offputting or scary (mostly because we prefer our mistakes and transgressions to remain safely in the past and powerless) and each and every time she spoke of it, I made myself listen past my own boundaries, past my maleness, past my ego, past all of that and past all that might interfere with learning from and understanding someone, and sat and heard my friend, heard the story and heart of a person who dared love and believe, more than once, only to be tossed aside and to live, in all of that, some things I must merely imagine, as I have not and can not experience them.
Laura has been not only a friend, and an artist I admire, she has helped me (unwittingly she has helped me) learn more about women and what this world can feel like to them, and how it can treat them. We must listen to these stories (as men) and imagine what a place we have made and continue to make for them. We must ask if this is the same place we want our mothers and daughters and sisters and lovers and wives to live in.
But I was afraid of this. I've gone and talked too much. I did want to give you some backstory. But you can (and really should) visit her site to see her work and to read her own words.
Now, I repost Laura's statement written upon learning the news of Dave's death.
My Naked Dave series has been a way for me to work out the anger, grief, and loss that this relationship brought me. I was only 18 when I met Dave. I was not too much older than that when he fathered my child in 1978. The cruel and heartless way he dealt with me during my pregnancy was inexcusable. When I lost the baby through miscarriage, the physical and emotional pain I went through was unbearable. I have been dealing with the effects this loss has had on me all my adult life. I never bore another child. The whole situation made me despondent and depressed for many years. Dave helped me through none of this. Just knowing this person almost killed me.
In 1991, just as I was coming to a place of recovery, Dave began seeking me out again. He held out the possibility to me that we could reconcile and “carry on in a more positive light”, as he put it. Then he cold-heartedly “set me up” for an emotional ambush and cruelly withdrew once the damage was once again done. I felt betrayed and abandoned for the second time and I had to do something to save myself. It wasn't what happened in 1978 that inspired the series. We were young and stupid and that can be forgiven. No, it was the failed "reconciliation" of 1991 that lit the fire. I did what I had to do to save my self. I couldn't walk the earth with murderous rage in my bosom and let it destroy everything around me. Naked Dave originally began as a way I could cathartically extract the emotional toxins this man brought into my life. It ended by becoming an entire genre of my life’s work, one that has brought me much praise and recognition.
For many years I assumed that Dave was merely annoyed by my paintings of him but I was wrong. In recent years I found out that he was deeply affected by what I had done. The only friend we still have in common beseeched me in an email to forgive him, but I found it impossible for me to do so without a face to face reconciliation. I offered Dave that chance in 2005, but he turned me away. Now that Dave is dead, a face to face forgiveness and reconciliation between us will never happen. I will have to live with this reality and move on when I am able to do so.
The issues Dave brought to my life and my ability to process them through my art inspires me. When that changes, my art will change. To aspire to make great art one must know truth, beauty and love. My muse, as unwilling a subject as he may have been, was a muse nonetheless. The English Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti had a muse, Elizabeth Siddal. A recent book about her life has the following quotation from John Ruskin which took my breath away with it’s truth: “And yet Elizabeth had been loved tenderly, loved by the man and by the artist, which is to be loved twice, because painters have a tenderness for the creature that suddenly realizes for them, in an exquisite and living form, a long cherished dream, and lavish upon her a gaze that is more thoughtful, more intuitive and, to put it plainly, more charged with love than is possible for other men.”
Below is a study for the last painting of the Naked Dave series. I have known since February of 2005 that Dave was ill with cancer. I was sworn to secrecy and struggled with thoughts of discontinuing the series altogether for this reason but the heart feels what the conscious mind can’t bear to know. The monarchs are in the painting because the Aztecs believed they carried the souls of the dead. I started it July 2005. I will continue to paint Dave until I am done and I can bring peace to myself.