The shroud of light. Exhibition of László Molnár

It is as if we are watching a scene in motion on the screen, but the eye searches in vain and keeps getting lost. Still non-figurative, one might think, but we come across familiar shapes again and again, as if the sight is only an illusion – which is why the first encounter with László Molnár’s paintings is somewhat disconcerting. László Molnár’s six-decade-long career has been full of twists and turns, but rather than floundering, it has taken a well-planned, logical path. He transitioned from figurative painting to non-figurative painting, then back to figure drawing, and sometimes it appeared that he sought to synthesize both in a single image field.

In the early 1960s, after being denied admittance to the Academy of Fine Arts as a young artist multiple times, he discovered the artist group that later became known as the Zugló Circle. He learned the craft among the painters who met in Sándor Molnár’s apartment: Imre Bak, Pál Deim, István Nádler, Endre Hortobágyi, and others. It was here that he absorbed intellectual history from his fellow painters and the lectures of Béla Hamvas. “The Zugló Circle was like college for me,” he concluded.1 He still considers Sándor Molnár his master.

In the Zugló Circle, he became acquainted with the works of the artists of the so-called Second School of Paris (Bazaine, Manessier, Estève, Bertholle, and Singier, among others). Sándor Molnár had Jean Bazaine’s book Notes sur la peinture d’aujourd’hui (Notes on Painting Today) translated for the members of the Circle, which was considered to be the foundation of French lyrical abstraction to follow. “What is the lyrical-abstract formation of the Bazaine Circle – and thus of the Zugló Circle – from a professional, painterly point of view?” – inquires Gábor Andrási, a researcher of the period. “To be clear, lyrical abstraction is not non-representational art. Its aspiration is precisely aimed at the painterly rehabilitation of the banished, impossible object, or, as Bazaine puts it, its ‘new incarnation,’ or ‘reconquest.’ The ‘new incarnation’ of a motif derived from nature (nature in its most general sense, referring to the totality of man, object, and environment) is understood as its pictorial transcendence, which aims at ‘the object becoming a passionate ideogram of the truth that transcends it.’”2 In this sense, the starting point is always the sight of a natural motif – and not merely an abstract form – that appears on the canvas in a transfigured, altered form. (Andrási refers to this process as motif-concealing or nature-concealing abstraction).

The few years he spent in the Zugló Circle had a long and decisive impact on Molnár’s oeuvre. Although he studied lyrical abstraction in depth as well as many other contemporary and classical movements, the results of which he attempted to incorporate into his own art, the artistic experience, thinking, and taste he gained in the Circle left a lasting mark on his work. “I always have a starting point on which the rest of my experiences are superimposed, as if forming a fabric,” he later explained in an interview. “Then comes the adventure. The experience of the landscape is most important for me, followed by the figure, which is almost always present in my paintings. I often work on these features using either the tools of classical painting or modern tools, or by mixing the two. Sometimes I go as far as total abstraction, but most of the time I mark the figure in one way or another.”3

László Molnár’s sensitivity to transcendental themes can also be traced back to the spirit of the Zuglói Circle. The artistic life program developed (and put into practice) by Sándor Molnár, which Béla Hamvas called “painter’s yoga,” also influenced Molnár. So much so that in his self-edited compendium of his life’s work, he arranges his oeuvre according to the basic elements of Painter’s Yoga: earth, water, fire, crystal, and air.4

László Molnár’s thought was influenced by a variety of Eastern religious beliefs, mysticism, and alchemy, but the Bible, particularly the Passion of Christ, proved to be the most influential for him in terms of sacredness. Ambitious series, such as Golgotha, The Shroud, The Veil of Veronica, or the titles such as Prayer to the Angels, Fallen Angels, and St. Sebastian, make the painter’s intimate relationship with Christianity expressis verbis evident.

He came across the subject of the Shroud of Turin decades ago, which was particularly inspiring for him and led to a lifelong practice of meditation. Many see the famous relic as the ‘Fifth Gospel,’ which, like the Shroud of Jesus of Nazareth, for most Christian believers, provides material evidence of the resurrection. László Molnár’s The Shroud series, created between 2001 and 2006, was the result of years of reflection, although the canvas as a medium was already associated with the analogy of the shroud. “I consider the canvas to be a shroud that carries the paint material and preserves the damage and violent destruction caused to the canvas. These elements are all analogous to the original [Turin] Shroud (...),” Molnár writes in the preface to the catalog that introduces the series. “The existence of the shroud conveys a message. Involuntarily, it raises a series of questions and question marks. The veil of Jesus covers this world, and the drama of human suffering bleeds through it.”5

Molnár’s paintings of sacred subjects were mostly created in the spirit of abstract expressionism. However, the relationship to figurativeness is still evident on the canvases. The starting point is often clearly discernible, typically a body, but occasionally a face, a body part, or a piece of clothing related to the subject. Crumpled textiles applied to the surface create the swirling forms, which look plastic and relief-like. The surface damage done in The Shroud series reveals the traces of the medieval fire on the Shroud of Turin, as well as the wounds of redemption.

In the final stage of the Painter’s Yoga program, the light-air element tends toward total emptiness, or dissolution in light. Sándor Molnár has also reached the point of “empty paintings,” and László Molnár is likewise working on realizing this. His painting from 2010, A Veil of Light, appears to symbolize the final path to emptiness itself. The painting still bears the traces of the corpus and wounds, but the light of the resurrection washes away the imprint of the human body. Radiance, created in 2015, presents us only with the all-pervading light of Christ. His reflection on light is like his artistic credo: “I have always been interested in the theme of light, and now I am very interested in it again. The painter receives creation, which is God’s work. We understand the world through our intellect and perceive it with our senses. Then there is the light that comes from the sun. Light is a manifestation of God, that is, of the Creator. It is the energy that makes life exist. Colors are the children of Light. They all move across space, throughout the Cosmos. The canvas gives the illusion of space, in which the movement of colors and shapes comes to life. The one who populates this space is the painter; hence, he creates in an analog way. He has and can have no other task but to offer his work to the Creator.”6

Zoltán Rockenbauer, PhD | curator of the exhibition

László Molnár was born in Gyöngyöspata on October 1, 1941. He began drawing and painting when he was ten years old, with guidance from painter and drawing teacher Péter Szabolcska. He completed his high school education in Gyöngyös in 1960. After graduation, he moved to Budapest to apply to the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, which he repeated two more times, but was unsuccessful each time. Between 1960 and 1964, he worked at Csepel Iron and Metal Works. He became a member of the Csepel Free School of Fine Arts and the Vasutas [Railway worker’s] Art Circle. In 1962, he met the painter Sándor Molnár, who later introduced him to the writer Béla Hamvas, and got involved in the activities of the Zugló Circle, which had a significant impact on his artistic development. From 1964 to 1986, he worked for Cartographia Company. He first visited Paris in 1967 and continued to travel around Europe to deepen his knowledge. He has been a member of the National Association of Hungarian Artists (MAOE) since 1980 and the Society of Hungarian Painters since 2003. He returned to Gyöngyöspata in 2004 and has been living and working there ever since. In his art, he works with sacred themes in an abstract way, with a focus on the story of the Passion of Christ. In terms of form, he strives for the compatibility and permeability between figurative and non-figurative painting. To date, he has had thirty-three solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows. Our exhibition features a selection of sacral works from the last two decades.

2024. May 31. - July 7.
2024. May 24. - September 15.
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Antal Vásárhelyi: Living? Spaces