George Molnar , The Art of the Authentic
Written by Keith Olson
Art Instruction Schools 1986
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.