George has had many articles written about him over the years and participated in numerous museum shows. These articles are the ones we think say the most about his work and life. He has been honored to be on the cover of two Southwest Art magazines and The Illustrator.
May / June 2000
Written by Susan Hallsten McGarry
To See More Clearly
It’s attention to detail – and the way an artist leads us to those details -that gives some of the deeper meanings to great western art.
No doubt you’ve heard… or even uttered… something like: “That painting looks so real it could be a photograph.” It’s surprising how much photography has impacted the way we see the world. Oftentimes a photo seems more “real” than reality because it causes us to stop and reflect on a scene that we might otherwise overlook or that flew by so fast that we didn’t have time to visually or mentally register it.
From the invention of cameras in the early 19th century, the photograph has also intrigued artists. Many idiosyncrasies of the camera lens have become permanent aspects of how painters see the world, including the way it freezes a moment in time, providing details that have invaded the world of fine art are selecting a scene that casually “crops out” the rest of the world and flattens perspective so that even far-away objects seem nearby.
For artists working in the American West, the camera was immediately adopted as means of information gathering. Many of the best known western storytellers, including Frederic Remington, used photographic images the same way they used their sketchpads- as an aid in remembering details for future reference in their paintings.
So it comes as little surprise that today, with all our incredible photographic advances including video cameras- artist are still drawn to the photograph. Just as advanced, however, is our understanding of how the camera lens distorts visual reality and differs from the way we interpret what we feel about the person, place or thing being depicted.
Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt from New Mexico and Arizona Bill Owen are working cowboys who bring to their paintings and drawings firsthand information about the people they know and the work that they do. Both take a camera with them when they go out in the field.
“I take hundreds of photos when I’m working the range,” says Shufelt. “But the camera can’t get in the way… or they ask you to leave.” Shufelt uses his slides as the basic groundwork of his drawings, and, like Owen, he invariably combines details from a large number of photographs to convey how it feels to be out there, confronting the elements. The paintings and drawing thus go way beyond the material used to make them. In Owen’s painting, Cole Morehouse shivers as a new day breaks over the horizon, sending shafts of welcoming warm light onto his hat, hands and horse. He is humbled by a lifestyle that has taken the same toll on his body that it has on his hat. On the contrary, the cowhand in Shufelt’s drawing sits tall and comfortable amidst the dried grasses and inhospitable rocks that surround him.
In truth, what you see in Shufelt’s drawing is not an exact rendition of a photo, but an abstract interpretation of light and dark shapes, hard and soft edges and an endless variety of patterns that convey a mood. The same is true of Wyoming artist Carrie Ballantyne, whose colored pencil technique mimics the feel of weathered wood, denim, and flesh. In Lavender and Blues, the riot of textures leads us to the girl’s glance, which suggests there is a much deeper element to reality than what lies on the surface of the painting. We are drawn into her thoughts and are compelled to reflect on her youthfulness contrasted against well-worn clothing and the aged materials that surround her.
Arizonan George Molnar ( End of the Day ) is a master at bringing that kind of emotion into his paints. Unlike Shufelt and Owen, who often let the camera run on automatic when in action, Molnar formally poses models in photo shoots, selecting the location, lighting, clothing, and accouterments. Although he works methodically, Molnar say “I never get exactly what I want. In the painting, I turn cold facts into something warm with life.”
“Warm with life” definitely describes the paintings of Don Crowley, who ranks as one of the finest realists working in the West today. Like Molnar, Crowley sets up his scenes, often using his backyard in Tucson, Arizona, as the setting and as models, a group of sisters he has know and painted for years. In First Born ( see Jan/Feb issue, page 29, for this and two other images by Crowley), there is a wealth of information in every square inch of the painting, including a still life of wood, rocks, cradle board, and baskets in the lower half. Compare the arrangements of shapes, from curved horizontals of the wood to the blocky, irregular stones and sensual circles of the baskets. The presentation of the Madonna-like figure in the center with her first-born child nestled into pillows and holding her own little doll hearkens back to early religious paintings, while reminding us of universal nurturing relationships.
“I combine the abstract patterns of colors and shapes and record them in relationship to portraits of people I consider family,” says Crowley. “The paintings will probably be historical at some point, but my goal is simply to paint the best painting I can.”
And that’s precisely what William Acheff does as well, with one major exception. Even though his work looks incredibly photographic, Acheff does not use photographs at all. Rather, he sets up his still-life arrangements in his studio and paints them from life. In Germantown Red, he juxtaposes a number of material objects that take on a “super-reality” transcending typical vision: To see both the outer and the inner image more clearly.”
To see the outer and inner image more clearly is what takes a painting beyond a photograph. Through the artist’s interpretation of the details, we develop a bigger understanding of the person, place or thing depicted and through that understanding we learn more about our own response to the meaning of it all.
For 18 years Susan Hallsten McGarry wrote about the West as editor and chief of Southwest Art Magazine. Today, she curates shows and writes books and articles from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A Brush with Reality
Detailing the West in Contemporary Art
Written by Susan Hallsten McGarry
George Molnar’s [PA 1953 – living AZ] portraits have been described as “lens like” in their penetrating focus on details like the shine of the skirt in Melissa or the sparkle of silver and turquoise in Secret Treasure. Molnar poses his Navajo and Hopi subjects in the rocky landscapes near their homes, looking for dramatic lighting effects. Squint at Melissa, for instance, and the “c” shaped composition of light and dark encircles her almost as if she were held in the palm of a hand.
Molnar learned his drawing skills while in high school, taking the entire correspondence course offered by the Minneapolis Art Instruction School. He later studied for a year in the art department of Biola, La Mirada, CA. Encouraged by his wife Marcia, also an artist, and her father, Jay Schmidt, who paints and ran a gallery in Carmel, California, Molnar was introduced to the work of Ray Swanson, whose gallery was only a few miles from his home. Molnar admired Swanson’s work along with that of R Brownell McGrew [1916-1994]. The latter artist had also visited and painted the Navajo and Hopi people from 1959 to 1979.
Molnar melds McGrew’s uncanny sensitivity to surface and color with a spiritual penetration that borders on the surreal. He has documented many individuals over their lifetimes, including Earlene who is seen in Secret Treasure. Molnar has shown her growth from an adolescent to a mature and beautiful young woman.
“I hadn’t planned this composition when I began my photo session with Melissa. But as I moved around her and then stood on a rock above her, I saw something I never would have thought of. My photograph captured the folds of her dress, the shadows and the lighting, but it was flat and dull, without any life at all. A photo only lets in what the lens sees. The painting reflects what is inside the artist, how I felt about the subject.”
“Earlene has been a subject of mine since the 1980s when she was five years old. In this work I brought a combination of elements from various sources – the sky is from my home in Prescott, the mid ground is Earlene’s home In Monument Valley and the large rock outcrop is from a nearby location. The butte repeats her shape, creating a double triangle that adds solidity. The viewer can decide what the treasure is that she hold in her hands.”
Also shown in this exhibition and seen above on the cover was Echoes of Light.
George Molnar, Picturing Earlene
Southwest Art Magazine, March 1993
Written by Budge Ruffner
We turned north at Kayenta, crossed Laguna Creek and entered the valley at dusk on an autumn evening. Arizona and Utah share this brittle land where hundreds of ageless sandstone icons tower above the desert floor. Monument Valley is a silent symphony composed not of sounds but of colors, configurations and space. This is the home of many Navajo families and it was here, 11 years ago, that George Molnar [b1953 PA] found the focus of his art.
While Molnar’s subject matter is varied, his is recognized for his insightful portrayal of the Navajo. The largest native American tribe in North America, the Navajo number 200,000 and live on a reservation of 15 million acres in the states of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Molnar brought me to an area of Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border where the family of his favorite Navajo model lives. A six-hour drive from his home in Prescott, AZ, this remote area offers hundreds of beguiling faces and the colorful country that created them.
Earlene Holiday was 5 years old when Molnar first saw her in the early 1980s. He had gone to her grandmother’s hogan to buy a rug. Earlene was there, watching intently as her grandmother Susie Yazzie worked the wool and loom. Earlene’s long black hair was lovingly brushed and parted by the wind; her dark brown eyes displayed the innocence of her age and reflected a kind of hope that only children have.
At this point in his life, George Molnar was no stranger to either Indians or children. He was the father of a boy and girl; his hometown of Beaumont, CA, was surrounded by three small Indian reservations. The setting of Monument Valley, where man and model first met was the third leg on a sturdy stool of creativity.
Molnar has used this dramatic expanse of high desert as a studio and setting for his Navajo studies in oil. John Ford with John Wayne had preceded him, framed by films. Fort Apache, Rio Grande, The Searchers and classic Stagecoach were but a few of the many productions wherein these red volcanic monoliths towered a thousand feet in the background. Ford ignored the Navajos… Molnar did not.
Molnar’s paintings of Navajos are far more than portraits. They tell the story of cultural change in an enduring landscape. This was not a happening- it was a development. The average Navajo living in a remote section of this huge reservation is hesitant and frequently avoids any face-to-face contact with a bilagaana. This reluctance to accept and relate is not normally abandoned after a few exchanges between the two. Yet, when George Molnar came to this sparsely populated area of the reservation he did so with an artful, unhurried approach. He seemed to fit into the cultural collage. The result, after a few visits, was a willingness to relate, to aid and assist and above all, to understand.
Molnar moved to this area in 1979, after attending college in California and marrying his high school sweetheart. Although he and been painting the Navajo since 1975, the relocation to Prescott, AZ, was a turning point. In Arizona, a land rich and varied in cultural and geological resources, the budding Molnar began to bloom. In studying the Navajo, he learned that these high-desert people with a once-rich ceremonial life were in cultural transition. They had poor medical card, a self-serving tribal leader, and constant and tragic border wars with their Hopi neighbors. The old days of continuity and cultural identity that had once existed were dimly remembered. They were moving with frightening speed into a value system of red pickups and the contemporary problems of novelist Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn.
“There were times when I thought I had arrived here too late,” says Molnar. “So I began painting the elders before they were gone.”
Both the old and the young have posed for Molnar, and of the latter, none have come under as much attention as Earlene whose maturation has been recorded by Molnar in a series of portraits. Windy but Warm for example, is a straightforward study of the child as she stands huddled in a prized Pendleton blanket. The background is rabbit weed and a modest mound of red sandstone. The child’s face does not conceal the novelty of her experience. Here is a graphic concert of the man, model and Monument Valley. Similarly, First Flower pictures Earlene as she examines a desert marigold which blooms in early spring on the sandy shoulders of the roadways. This is a classic work that needs no adornment. Earlene’s ponytail clasp and Zuni brooch symbolize the cultural exchanges her people have experienced.
Now, what the Navajos call neya has come to this young lady. Earlene has matured. She attends Monument Valley High School near her home and is a straight “A” student. On a shyness scale, she is a 10-quiet, withdrawn, at times almost ethereal. Yet she is highly competitive in school sports and academics. Her Mother, Effie, is employed in the mission hospital nearby. Her example may be a compass pointing to the direction Earlene wants to go.
She volunteered the scenario: “First I want to join the Navy to see something of the world and prepare for college.” She plans to study medicine, for she has seen the health problems of her people. Tuberculosis, diabetes, glaucoma and trachoma are traditional enemies of the Navajo. Earlene, maturing in both mind an body, foresees waging war against all evil things that plague her people.
Molnar prefers to think of his paintings of Earlene and her people not as portraits but as “intimate insights into an evolving culture.” Sometimes a facial expression becomes a text, telling the story with an accuracy unknown in the tomes of anthropology.
Molnar’s experiences photographing his models in Navajo country have included both high and low moments. Once, while standing on a sandy slope, his lower legs began to tingle. “At first I thought it was the heat,” Molnar recalls, “but I soon discovered that both my legs were covered with black ants! Then, last summer when Earlene was posing on a mound of sandstone just after a rain storm, I heard this strange noise and figured that my camera had started rewinding. When the noise continued, I discovered a rattler coiled on a ledge 2 feet below where I was standing. When a baby rattler moved across the ledge, I realized that we and the rain must have disturbed a whole family of them…” This time around Molnar made one of his rare decisions not to suffer for his art.
Molnar’s recent paintings of Earlene disclose her transition from child to womanhood. Eyes of the Canyon [cover] depicts a tranquil, sophisticated Navajo perched in the fork of a shagbark juniper. It is the advent of a girl on the rim of a life passage. Simple, yet spectacular, she stares down at us. Her feminine beauty contrasts with the haggard arms of the tree, while her self-assurance is punctuated by her vantage point high above the ground. Richly complemented by the plush burgundy and pink velvet of her dress, she is self-contained in both body language and her vision of the future. In the decade that George and Earlene have worked together, both have matured and grown. Each has a tended trust of the other, but soon they will separate. Earlene will leave the sandstone monoliths she has always know. She will go to a strange new world in hopes of returning to help and heal. Molnar, too, will explore beyond this valley, searching for other tribes and other places, pueblos and wickiups before they are all replaced by double-wide trailer homes.
In this decade of discovery both man and model refined their gifts. George: warm, outgoing, relaxed and self-assured. Earlene: shy, determined, focused on tomorrow. Together they created a bridge of mutual understanding… Indian-Anglo. They documented a time, a place and a people.
The Schmidts and the Molnars
Southwest Art Magazine, March 1987
Written by Susan Hallsten McGarry
Art is not the only bond that unites this family of painters in their mission of personal expression.
On the American continent, it began in the early nineteenth century with the “painting Peales” a trompe l’oeil master Charles Wilson Peale and his sons Raphaelle, Rubens, Rembrandt and Titian were called. They were followed in the next century by the Wyeths and Hurds. And it has happened once again, this time on the West Coast, where the Schmidts and Molnars will, for the first time, exhibit their work together.
Jay Schmidt, his two sons Brad and Timothy, his daughters Brenda and Marcia and Marcia’s husband George Molnar are showing 60 works at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ, beginning March 16, 1987, and running through April 16. It’s an exhibit they’ve looked forward to for a long time.
“In the mid-1970s when it began to look like we had some painters in the family besides myself I started thinking in terms of an exhibit,” say Jay. “But we lived in different places and were represented by different galleries, so it took over a decade for it to finally happen. I couldn’t be more proud – I get so much satisfaction out of my family’s achievements.”
Jay Schmidt, who was born in Kansas in 1929, studied oil painting while in high school. However, his attentions turned to academia and then the Baptist ministry until 1968, when health problems forced him to slow down his pastoral activities. At the time he was living in Monterey, CA, and, as a pastime, he painted seascapes and landscapes featuring the rolling hills and oaks of the area. When, in 1975, he discovered he could sell his works, he began painting full time and working part time as a church pastor. After a brief stay in Arizona, where he and his family fell in love with the rugged landscape and its cowboys and Native American population, Jay returned to the San Luis Obispo, CA area where he and his wife, Priscilla, live today. There he continues to communicate with the many area artists who initially encouraged him to create and who also inspired his children to become painters.
Among these many friends are artists Ralph Love, Ray Swanson and Vaughn Shoemaker. “I think the kids got taken with the process in part because we were so close to fine artists like Ray, who was a member of our church. And, of course, the Carmel-Monterey area has so many galleries in which to see art. I always knew the kids had talent, but I often wonder if they might have gone different routes had art not been such a big part of their growing up.”
Although religion is not a over statement in Jay’s art, he acknowledges that his faith is expressed in every canvas. “God is not silent,” he says.”He speaks to us through the beauty that surrounds us. Almost all of the portrait subjects I paint are Christian friends that I’ve had good fellowship with, and the landscape, with its marvelous array of colors and designs, is a manifestation of God’s creation that never ceases to excite me.”
The first child to declare his interest in following in Jay’s footsteps was Brad Schmidt. Born In 1956, as youngster Brad did yard work for Ray Swanson who gave him instruction in the use of dry-brush watercolor. By age 15, Brad was already selling paintings in his father’s gallery, New Masters Gallery in Carmel. Today, he lives in Pomona, CA, where he divides his time between painting and missionary work in Central America. Favoring people as his subjects, Brad enjoys watercolor because of it experimental qualities.
Marcia Molnar, age 34, was the next to turn professional. “I never wanted to become an artist, because I always was one,” she explains. “Anatomy was my favorite subject, so it was natural that I would apply it to art. I learned to paint from my dad and from the art books that were everywhere in our house.”
In high school Marcia displayed her art works in her father’s gallery, and it she who introduced her boyfriend George Molnar to Ray Swanson. Today, Marcia focuses primarily on women and children as subjects, painting in a studio she shares with George in Prescott, AZ. “For me, art is a mirror that reveals my feelings about the people I’m painting.” Marcia says. “My goal is to pull the best out of myself in order to create the finest painting I am capable of .”
Thirty-four year old George Molnar was the next full-time professional artist in the clan. His interest in art began with a correspondence course from Art Instruction Schools of Minneapolis, MN. At first he was attracted to Americana subjects, especially the weather-worn barns and rusting cars that he encountered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But when he saw Swanson’s paintings and then Jay introduced him to R. Brownell McGrew’s work, George’s heart was taken by the Navajo people. “I love color and I think it was the Navajos’ clothing that first attracted me to them,” he says. Since then Molnar has come to respect and love “The Dineh”(or The People), as the Navajo refer to themselves.
Having painted professionally for over a decade, George is best know for his meticulous oil technique. “My goal is always to make the face the focal point of a painting, so it is necessary to orchestrate the lighting, colors, background and design to be the perfect complement to the subject.”
George, like the rest of the family, works with photographs as a tool and is very outspoken about their usefulness to the fine artist. “It’s impossible to get a model to sit for as long as it takes me to compete a painting, so I use photographs as the raw material for my works. I have a collection of Navajo costumes and jewelry and pose models in the way I envision the painting to be completed. I take tons of shots, usually underexposing and overexposing them for effect. Then I will use any number of them to compose the painting. My selection of color and lightning is rarely to be found in the photographs, however. I determine that based on what best enhances the face and the essence of the painting.”
The essence George refers to is a factor of the personality of the individual depicted, as well as the artist’s philosophical outlook on life. “I am a born-again Christian and it is my Christian beliefs that have allowed me to stay sane in the world of art. There is a lot of pressure that an artist must put up with in his career and my faith gives me the hope that helps me get through it.”Tim Schmidt, age 32, lives just north of Prescott, in Chino Valley, AZ, where he paints the area’s ranch activities. While in high school, Tim dabbled in the arts and then enlisted in the Air Force. “I remember him coming home on leave and saying ‘I am going to be a western painter and I want you to teach me,’ ” recalls Jay, who taught him seascape painting. “But then, like all the kids, he went off in his own direction. They are all pretty independent.”
Tim’s direction was documenting the life of today’s working cowboy. “I always enjoyed movies and novels about the West when I was a kid,” he explains. “and then when I saw real ranch life, I just fell in love with it. Cowboys and ranchers are some of the best people in the world. They make you feel right at home. I try to capture what they do and why they love their work so much.” Tim credits Bill Owen and James Reynolds as big influences on his career, as well as George Molnar who continues to critique his work. “I’d rather have George point out my problems before a collector does!” he says. “Sure there’s competition among us, but it is friendly. We are a family who helps one another.”Brenda Schmidt was the last holdout to take up the brush. “She swore she would be the only sane one in the family and not become an artist,” laughs Jay. But the lure grew too great when the family moved to Prescott in 1980.
“I figured I just didn’t have the patience for it until my dad showed me that painting is really a step-by stop process.” the 29 year old says. Brenda favors children as her subjects and finds them on the family trips to the Navajo Reservation. “We wander about until we see someone who we would like to have pose for us. We ask the parents if it is okay and begin the photo session.”
Life the rest of the family, Brenda’s faith has gotten her though many struggles in the painting process. And no doubt she speaks for the entire Schmidt and Molnar clan when she says, “I could not do what I do without God’s help. Painting is a lonely, frustrating process and so many times I’ve been ready to quit work on a canvas. Then I remember that God is with me and I ask for His help and the paint just seems to flow.
More About the Art Instruction Schools
Art Instruction Schools 1986
Written by Keith Olson
George Molnar , The Art of the Authentic
To view his art is to know something of the man. George Molnar’s sensitive paintings of Native Americans are, in many ways, a reflection of his personality. Reserved. Thoughtful. Sincere. Seldom has a person’s artistic output so mirrored his basic approach to life.
George Molnar would, however, quickly point out that he does not embody all of these qualities in some ideal circle of perfection. He readily admits to his fair share of impatience, frustration and unmet goals.
Molnar’s laid back demeanor is also somewhat deceptive. It masks a quiet intensity that observes what our culture in its haste destroys, or unthinkingly leaves behind. He sees those things that can easily be lost because they are so fragile, or because it is so easy not to care.
When George Molnar picks up brushes his instinctive focus is not on the many positive aspects of modern society, but on the old and the passing, the rejected and the changing.
If we could look back into George Molnar’s portfolio of ten years ago, we would see sketches and paintings of an abandoned car rusting in a weedy field, a decaying old barn, a deserted building, and a variety of other discarded symbols of a restless lifestyle.
And if we studied this early creative content, we would begin to sense something of the mind set that found its current expression in the American Indian and their fast vanishing cultures. In these people, and especially in the colorful Navajos of the Great Southwest, Molnar found a subject to match his growing compulsion to paint, record and celebrate an important and disappearing chapter in the American experience.
The path George Molnar followed to his current artistic outlook (he would frown at the term “artistic philosophy”) began when just eight years old. While looking through a magazine he noticed a “Draw Me” advertisement for Art Instruction Schools.The subject Molnar recalls was the profile of a young girl. He quickly submitted a rendering, but the response to this first creative stirring was a polite but firm, “Sorry, but you’re just a little too young.”
The youthful Molnar continued to render and submit drawings of the “Draw Me” ads, and finally his persistence paid off. When Molnar was a freshman in high school he was accepted as a student.
“My enrollment with Art Instruction Schools was the real beginning of my art career,” Molnar says. “it was the one thing that got me going. I learned one thing that got me going. I learned basic drawing skills, gained an understanding of color and design, and perhaps as important was given encouragement. Art Instruction Schools was without a doubt a strong factor in whetting my appetite for a career in art.”
Other early influences on Molnar’s art development were his parents, George and Mary Molnar, who have provided warm and continuing support throughout his career.
“My dad always told me to do my best,” Molnar remembers. “I’ve translated that into ‘Try and be best.’ ” He has plenty of competition for that ideal from within his family. His wife, her sister, two brothers and father are all active artists. The father-in-law, Jay Schmidt, Molnar mentions often as important to artistic development. “The family,” he says, “are each other’s best critics.”
Another key influence on Molnar’s early creative development was his college art professor, Frank Zamora, who he remembers for his healthy blend of both prodding and patience.
After attending a California college in the early 70’s, Molnar married his high school sweetheart, Marcia, and worked at a number of different jobs while continuing to paint in the evenings and weekends. When possible he would head into the mountain country of California, Arizona and New Mexico to paint and to reflect with his wife on the future direction of their lives.
Soon the sounds of the business world began to fade, and in their place came a more seductive music. In 1976 a complete break was made, and Molnar devoted full time to painting. In 1979 he moved with his wife and their two children, Benjamin then five, and Shasta then three, to their present home in Prescott, Arizona.
This location was chosen specifically for the wealth of subject matter in the area. Molnar had become fascinated with the Navajo Indians who were in a awkward transition between their old ways and a new, often overwhelming society. He saw that something profound, something beautiful was disappearing. For Molnar the move to Arizona became not the end of the trail but an exciting new beginning . He soon realized, however, that along with the inspiration he received from the colorful Navajo culture, there was a hidden challenge.
The inspiration part was all about him. The spectacular beauty of the mountains, buttes and deserts was obvious. The rich traditions of the Navajo people and their strong cultural identity held great visual promise.
In the innocence of the young Navajo children he found a universal charm and joy. “I’m a kid at heart,” Molnar says,”and find it easy to relate to them. They’re so spontaneous and expressive and unassuming. What more attractive subject can one hope for?’
In the time worn faces of the Navajo elders he saw a character that was irresistible. “Their faces are lined with the the triumphs and defeats of passing years.” Molnar observes. “A life’s story is there, hidden but somehow we understand even if we don’t know all the details.” But the real challenge of portraying his chosen subjects was, Molnar sensed, to get beyond the cosmetic. To record the Navajo of today, the Navajo in transition, he needed an input that was more instinct than fact. The Indian selling jewelry at a roadside stand was not the Navajo Molnar was seeking.
So began a search to understand the Navajo on their own terms, in their own contemporary environment. After developing a level of trust, which often takes several visits, Molnar may ask his new acquaintances if they will pose for him. Sketches, back ground notes and pictures follow. The contacts made during these excursions are sometimes enduring. One subject, a small Navajo girl was first painted when she was only four years old. Now age ten, Molnar is in the process of painting her again.
The long drives, the gathering of information, the meeting of people, the storing away of insights and vague visual impulses is time consuming, but the easy part of his work Molnar claims.
The next step is the sometimes painful, but always beautiful birth on canvas of his mind images.
Molnar works an average of 30 to 40 hours per week in his home studio. Sometimes the ideas and concepts take shape easily and naturally, at other times the creative process is an intense personal struggle.
“I always have a picture in my mind,” Molnar says,”but it doesn’t always come out the first time. I need the freedom to adjust to evolving creative ideas.”
Some paintings are finished in a few weeks. Others are on and off the easel for months. One painting took over a year to finish. Molnar admits that several canvases are stacked in a corner, perhaps never to be finished.
“My work habits are quite sporadic, not that I purposely plan it that way,” he confesses. “it’s simply the way it seems to flow. When the spirit moves, I move. Sometimes my painting hours are put in early in the day. Sometimes I’m at work late at night. For me this is not a nine to five job.”
Although Molnar has used various mediums, he prefers oils because they offer a flexibility to meet the changing demands of the image he is creating. “With oils I can build bit by bit. I can guide the depth and luster of the work. Oils give me a texture and a sheen that I need for achieving just the right effect.”
Molnar’s smaller pieces are often done on Masonite board. The larger works are generally painted on canvas because it is lighter than Masonite.
Molnar has recently acquired a museum collection of traditional Navajo clothing. The authentic blankets, jackets, skirts, necklaces and other jewelry items make excellent studio source material, and are also used on field trips for dressing the Navajo models.
Molnar’s style is a technically superb realism that often startles the viewer as we almost anticipate his life-like figures slowly turning on the canvas to meet our gaze. When standing before a Molnar original we are tempted to touch, or perhaps to offer a greeting.
But Molnar’s finely honed portraits are also realism with a difference. They are not idealized or romanticized, but contain what one might call a real-realism. To Molnar the weathered and the worn, the old and rejected are all worthy of his brush. He refers to the content of his paintings as “the realism of imperfection.” Notice the strands of unkempt hair, the deep lined face, the broken button, the torn sleeve.
Both art critics and art collectors have responded to this special brand of realism. Molnar’s paintings have won the Silver and Gold Medal Awards at the prestigious George Phippen Memorial Art Show. His painting The Search was named Best of Show at the National Western and Wildlife Art Collectors Society Exposition.
Reflecting on his art career to date, George Molnar offers some practical advice: “To get satisfaction from fine art is easy. To make a living from fine art is difficult. It is hard work, and more hard work. Try always to paint what you are comfortable with, and not what is trendy or expected of you. Feel good about what you are attempting to create. It should be a natural part of you and what you believe. And if you have some talent, and if you are willing to build the right technical foundation, piece by piece, the gap between you and your goals will begin to close.”
That statement is pure Molnar. Sincere. Thoughtful. Genuine. Most will agree that both he as a person, and his work are fine examples of the art of the authentic.
Due to the wonderful letters and questions George receives from all over the world, he would like to share something a little more from his studio.
In this picture George is working on a painting of an iris turned on it’s side.
It is an unusual subject matter but George finds inspiration in many things. You can see the finished painting by clicking here.
Some of the other things you may notice are an old Navajo horse bridle and turquoise necklace, a painting of a little girl (just started), two small paintings, baby moccasins by Joni Falk and a landscape by Dan Robinson and the war shirt worn in Morning Prayers.
And what’s that writing on his easel just above his painting?
One of George’s favorite movies is Big Trouble in Little China – see quote below. He also has many Chinese Cookie fortunes taped to his easel to encourage him to paint great paintings!
People who have permission to disturb George at work are people like our Fed Ex man and neighbors. He will venture out of his sacred studio when he hears their voices and this is what they see.
This apron will tell you a bit more about George. Alpha Beta is the grocery store George worked for as a bag boy and a checker when he was a teenager through his early twenties. He was working at Alpha Beta when he decided to become an artist full time, he was 26 when the apron found another life in a painter’s studio. It is the only apron he has worn and even though tattered on the edges it will live on because George preserves it by wiping paint on it instead of a rag. It weighs at least 3 pounds.
Other favorites on any given day are –
Movies. Favorite movie of all time and forever is Joe Versus the Volcano ( no one knows why ).
Music of all kinds. George’s favorite groups are The Beatles, U2, The Cure, and The Beachboys, just to name a few.
All kinds of art. Favorite artists at the moment are the GC7.