The Life and Art of Frank Molnar

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Frank Molnar's Point Grey home. Eve Lazarus photo, 2016
Frank Molnar’s Point Grey home. Eve Lazarus photo, 2016

I dropped around to see Frank Molnar this week and was happy to see that he’s painting again. Frank is pushing 80 now and he’s not in great health, but you could never tell this from his work.

I met Frank several years ago when I profiled him as part of the Unheralded Artists of B.C. series. I got to hang out with Frank and his wife Sylvia in their little Point Grey home that’s filled with his stunning nudes, drawings and still lifes.

Frank Molnar
Frank and Sylvia at home. Photo courtesy Dan Fairchild, 2009.

Sadly, Sylvia died last year after almost 50 years of marriage. She was his muse, in the early days his model, and she took care of the things that artists tend to be so bad at—self-promotion, marketing and currying favours with gallery owners, dealers and curators.

As Sylvia once told me, Frank does not paint to suit the market, “he refuses to paint to match the chesterfield.”

Book launch, 2009
Eve Lazarus, Charles Van Sandwyck, Sylvia Molnar, Mona Fertig, Peter Haase. Book launch 2009

Frank and Sylvia used to host open houses. While that’s common now, bypassing galleries was considered heresy in the ‘60s and galleries wouldn’t touch his work. Instead Frank took a job at Capilano College and stayed there for 30 years. Charles van Sandwyck, now one of the country’s best-selling illustrators, calls Frank the single largest influence on his career.


Molnar 1990

Frank’s paintings are supposed to challenge the viewer, says Charles. “They are not subtle little things that you can put in the corner. Frank’s paintings say a lot, and he’s a classic example of a fabulous artist operating in the wrong place,” he said. “He wasn’t going to be the flavor of the month. He’s a rebel and rebels don’t work well with the establishment. I don’t think there has ever been a gallery in Vancouver that could handle his work.”

Molnar inside

Frank is working on two paintings in his upstairs studio. One is of a large herring he keeps in his freezer, the other is of Persephone—in Greek mythology she is the daughter of Zeus.

“I’m having fun with it, but there’s a long way to go,” he tells me. “My emphasis now is more on colour and texture than before. I want more emotion.”

Molnar sketch and new still life

The figure is modeled on a drawing he found while he was cleaning up one day. The new painting has a hummingbird from his garden, and he’s added a dragon fruit. This painting, he says, is also a tribute to Sylvia and will include her actual earrings.Molnar new

Sylvia would be delighted that Frank is painting again. She told me: “He’s emotional and highly sensitive; my goodness, that’s okay, I like that. I like a person with a pulse. When he doesn’t paint, I can feel it. You can be sure he’s depressed and not feeling well. He’s happiest when he’s painting.”

Molnar blossoms 1967

I brought Frank a bottle of Glenfiddich. He gave me a painting. He tells me the best models are dancers, but cyclists have the best bodies.

Frank Molnar, 2016. Eve Lazarus photo
Frank Molnar, 2016. Eve Lazarus photo

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  1. Thanks so much Eve for this post. Frank taught at Capilano College when I was in their arts program in 73-74. Unfortunately I didn’t have him as an instructor, but very much recall his impressive personality and art. Pleased to read Charles van Sandwyck’s thought on Frank’s work. Charles was perhaps my favourite artist-encounter while I worked at Opus. When we discovered we had the same first name, are both left-handed, both exhibited at the Artemis Gallery, and professed to greatly admire each others art….well; sort of made my day. Back to Frank, so happy to see he is back painting in his own utterly uncompromising vision….definitely not intended to merely match the couch!

  2. I used to work with Sylvia at the cookshop at 12 and cambie years ago. I am so sorry to hear of her passing. I was going to give her a call this week. I miss her sweet voice. I am a chef in vancouver and I remember talking with her all the time about cooking…She was and always will be very specials to me
    Helena Kopelow, Executive Chef

  3. Hello Eve, Sylvia was my grade five and six music teacher, that was just over fifty years ago, but because of her music and art are an important part of my life, and why my 30 year old son and grand kids listen to classical music, I met frank a couple times back then, Sylvia would take a few students to her home as part of a field trip, and cook for us , and frank would tell stories , I was jelous of frank, as I had a huge crush on Sylvia , so sad to hear of her passing

    1. Thanks for stopping by Kerry. I love that she had such an impact on you that you remember her so fondly half a century later. I only knew her briefly, but she had a impact on me as well, amazing woman.

  4. I was privileged to be a student of Franks from 1975-1978 while taking courses in Life Drawing/Painting & Art Anatomy. I am sure Frank would not remember me because, while my drawing skills were OK, I was a TERRIBLE Painter.
    My skills were better suited to Printmaking & I remained enrolled, part time at Capilano College until 1982.
    I wasn’t able to spend much time before or after classes as I was a young wife and mother of two small children and the art classes were juggled with a part time job. But, my time in Franks’ classes absorbing creative energy opened my eyes to the World of Art and I was able to develop a good eye for Art.
    So very sorry to hear of the passing of Frank’s wife. Such a loss for him. I enjoyed reading about the both of them in the ‘ The Unheralded Artists of BC’ profie featuring Frank.
    Former student, Pam K

  5. I studied life drawing under Frank Molnar at Capilano College in the early 80’s. Glad to hear he is still around. I remember some funny moments that are likely better off public record lol.

  6. I too studied Fine Arts under Frank Molar when I took Illustration & Design at Capilano College in 1989-92. I liked his teaching methods, which was freer and could be more expressive than our other art study courses of which there were many. I remember discussing Hungary 1956 with him briefly in 1990. He only taught Fine Arts drawing and painting in our three-year program but its a lasting memory with me.

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