Brush with Reality

Detailing the West in Contemporary Art
Written by Susan Hallsten McGarry

Desert Caballeros Western Art Museum

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.

 

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.