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Luca Molnar: The art of pattern recognition

Luca Molnar illuminates the networks of people, politics and power in her latest painting series at Art Center Sarasota.

Artist Luca Molnar explores patterns in her work, which is on display at Art Center Sarasota.
Artist Luca Molnar explores patterns in her work, which is on display at Art Center Sarasota.
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Luca Molnar’s latest painting series is a dense collision of patterns and historical personalities. 

Her patterns flow from a range of spaces, both public and private. According to Molnar, “I’m captivated by the domestic environment and our everyday encounters with pattern in spaces like bathrooms and kitchens.” 

She adds that while “home” is theoretically a sheltering safe space, it’s sometimes a workhouse for women’s often-unseen labors. “It can also be a battleground for intimate violence,” she adds. Molnar also confronts the exploitation of women in the workforce. The networks of power and politics aren’t in your face in her fractured narratives. To find them, the viewer must exercise their own powers of pattern recognition. Molnar takes the same approach as an assistant professor of studio art at Stetson University. She graciously connected the dots in our recent conversation.


"Baker-Miller Pink" by Luca Molnar explores a famous psychologist's idea that this color of pink had a calming effect on people.
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What drives you to create?

For me, it’s a process of inquiry. I’ll start with a narrative that interests me — and then keep digging in different directions to see what comes up. During this process, I begin to figure out how personal and political history intersects and influences the ideas and experiences of the present.

You often paint the walls behind your paintings the dominant color of your artwork. That blurs the boundary of where your art stops and the world begins. What’s your strategy with that?

I’m interested in breaking the white cube. I want to give my paintings alternate spaces to exist beyond just white walls. That first started with the big yellow painting — “giornata.” I was inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It’s a short story about Jane, a writer with unnamed postpartum depression. Her husband locks her up in an attic that’s covered in yellow wallpaper. Jane slowly descends into madness and feels consumed by it. This feeling of being enveloped and maybe even attacked by a color became very interesting to me. My monochrome series evokes that visual intensity. I’m not interested in subtle color. I want color that yells at you.

Luca Molnar's "Giornata" uses color and patterns to explore stories.
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Jane is a fictional character. Who are some real-life historical figures in your paintings?

Eliza Lucas Pinckney is the focus of “Indigo Girls.” She’s a pretty interesting historical figure who’s credited with establishing indigo as a cash crop that thrived in South Carolina. Of course, she didn’t accomplish that on her own. She used the labor and knowledge of enslaved people to do it. “Baker-Miller Pink” refers to a shade of pink that’s very close to Pepto Bismol pink. In the '60s, the psychologist Alexander Schauss theorized that it had calming effect on people. It was first tested by Baker and Miller, the directors of a Seattle naval prison. They painted some cells that color and tracked what happened. It supposedly did calm prisoners down, but it was a pretty unscientific study. 

The “Radium Girls” were the women who painted watch faces with luminous radium at watch factories — and developed horrific cancers. Many actually sued their employers and established workers’ right to collectively sue for environmental harm in the United States. Other figures like Marie Curie show up, too. But it’s an interesting cross-section of environment, gender and labor rights.

Luca Molnar's "Radium Girls" painting is inspired by the historic watch-dial painters.
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How would you describe your relationship to pattern? 

I relate to pattern in a conceptual realm. I think of patterns as individuals with unique personalities. Each pattern has its own internal logic, much like people. We each have our own ways of interpreting the world and interacting with each other. I’m interested in the dialogue you create when you put two competing patterns next to each other — or two similar patterns.

Where do you get the patterns?

It’s a combination of intuition, memory and personal association. I was born in Hungary, and that resonates with me. So, I work with a lot of Hungarian patterns, from architecture to textiles. I also do historical research in the popular patterns of wallpaper, upholstery, or flooring at a certain time and place. So, if I’m creating an imagined space in for a 1970s woman California, I might investigate the kind of environment she would’ve inhabited. But, typically, I don’t pull the patterns from individual narratives.

"Indigo Girls" by Luca Molnar is inspired by Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who was credited with establishing indigo as a cash crop in South Carolina.
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Who are some of your artistic heroes and role models?

I've recently been inspired by Tomashi Jackson — a Black artist based in New York. Her paintings are very multimedia and incorporate see-through, plastic materials. Her approach to abstraction and historical narratives has influenced my work in many ways. In terms of color, I’m inspired by Kour Pour — an artist of Iranian descent who creates these nearly photorealistic textile paintings. They’re Persian rugs, but he sands their surfaces to make them look worn. The roughened quality he brings to textile has deeply influenced my work visually.

What would you like the viewer to take away from these pieces?

We tend to look at events and people singularly — in isolation. I think that looking at the connections between them can be beneficial. It’s really a kind of network thinking. Once you see the world this way, it brings more depth and nuance to things. And I hope my paintings might inspire that in the viewer.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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