Rotunda paintings invite reflection

by Dongjun Suh | 5/11/14 4:00pm

by Tracy Wang / The Dartmouth

Entering the Hopkins Center, it’s difficult to miss the latest Barrows Rotunda exhibit, an oil-on-canvas work titled “Indulgent” created using stencils for both the faceless human figures and the striking yellow background. It depicts a room with two human figures, one of whom almost blends into the yellow background of the wall. The other figure is seated on the ground, leaning on one arm.

Studio art intern Luca Molnar ’13, the piece’s artist, said she chose light, eye-catching colors to depict a playful message and catch the eyes of passers-by as they walk past the Hop.

“It’s a bright and purely visual thing,” Molnar said. “It’s playing with the idea of a sarcastic self-reflection of laziness.”

Molnar is the last of this year’s five studio art interns to display her work in the rotunda. Her work will be on display through May 29.

On the interior side to Molnar’s display is a companion piece titled “We Were Never Meant to Survive.” This piece, she said, is more personal and intimate.

The painting depicts three human figures against a red background, each with a different significance to Molnar’s life. The figure on the left is stenciled with all the states and countries where she has lived, while the figure on the right is colored by a galaxy pattern. The middle figure, meanwhile, is blank.

Molnar said she conceived of the figures as a sort of trio, the left figure representing the micro-elements to her life, like where she has lived, and the right figure representing the macro-elements, like the complete universe.

She hopes the painting will cause passing viewers to consider questions like where she comes from and how her individual identity plays into a larger whole. The middle figure in the piece is white to represent a person’s essence, devoid of color so that each viewer might project his or her perceptions and thoughts onto that space.

“They’re pretty graphic paintings, so you think that you saw everything at a single glance, but there’s a complexity in the specific decisions in making the painting,” Molnar said. “I want people to take time to consider that even if they don’t come away with clear answers.”

Studio art professor Jennifer Caine, one of Molnar’s thesis advisors, praised Molnar’s style and the conceptual thinking she applies to her work.

“Luca combines figuration and abstraction to create haunting images,” Caine said. “Her paintings invite contemplation of ideas of identity and place and are evocative of internal or emotional states more than exterior conditions or appearances.”

Molnar designed the paintings using a painstaking, precise process. First, she drew the figures on the canvas and then cut between 10 and 30 stencils for each figure. She then layered these stencils on the canvas until the figures and the background matched what she envisioned.

Fellow studio art intern Lexi Campbell ’13 described this process as highly effective.

“Her process of layering stencils to articulate the figure and its environment introduces fascinating discussions of the emotional and physical spaces that we as individuals interact with,” Campbell said.

Molnar said she has worked with stencils for almost a year but continues to think of ways to experiment with her technique and apply new conceptual thinking.

Choosing the colors for her paintings was an intuitive process, Molnar said. She started with one color that she wanted to use and built the other colors that complemented it into her palette.

She created the overall atmosphere she desired without too much trial and error, she said.

“For ‘Indulgent,’ I wanted to use yellow for the wall to reference the [Charlotte Perkins Gilman] story about the yellow wallpaper,” Molnar said, “It also just creates a very bright presence.”

Campbell described Molnar’s palette in “Indulgent” as “very provocative.”

“The aggressive and at times sickly yellow juxtaposed with the almost lethargic figural forms give me a sense of unease,” Campbell said.

Though Molnar painted “Indulgent” as an intern this year, she created “We Were Never Meant to Survive” last spring as an undergraduate student, she said. Both pieces took her about a month and a half to complete, she said.

Molnar’s next show will be at the Hop’s Jaffe-Friede gallery this summer. It will feature three of her works, including those that use a more abstract style.