Jon Molvig died in his late 40s. Yet despite his very brief life the breadth and depth of his work is considerable. Had he lived to a ripe old age it would have been fascinating to see where his art would have taken him.
The exhibition of his work has just opened at QAG and it is worth a special trip to view it.
The work displayed on the walls in QAG relates to the period from 1955 to 1970 when he lived in Brisbane. He was born in 1923, the same year as Margaret Olley. They might have been the same age but they were vastly different in their styles.
Jon was fiercely independent, a maverick, as the exhibition proclaims, and did not readily join any of the other painters' groups or schools of art even when he was asked to join the Antipodeans. His father was Norwegian sailor and worked for the steelworks in Newcastle. His mother died at the age of 2. He was raised by relatives and did not receive much formal education. He settled in Brisbane in 1955 when he was given a studio by John Rigby. This was a time when women were not allowed to drink in bars, when some well-known brothels were frequented. He was a brilliant draughtsman as can be seen by his many drawings of the female body and the many portraits he painted.
One of the children he painted for which he won an award
Some were of friends, others of well-known artists. He entered the Archibald on a number of occasions but it wasn't until 1966 that he won the prize for his portrait of Charles Blackman. He painted his own self-portrait which is done with a palette knife and gives him a rather stern and cynical appearance.
He was deeply influenced by his travels in Europe and the styles he encountered there.
He also travelled in the Northern Territory and became very aware of Aboriginal art and was very sensitive to their issues and concerns. The series of paintings on Dead Stockmen which he did are said to convey the age and passing of aboriginal culture.
In the 1960s, he had quite a change in style. He moved to Spring Hill and continued to work from a much larger studio there. His art began to reflect some of the Ned Kelly images and some studies of the female body.
When he became unwell his direction changed yet again influenced this time by the work of Patrick White who wrote the Tree of Man. He did a series of paintings which reflected his feelings about life and its finality.
He is fondly remembered by many art students as a teacher who gently showed them the way without being prescriptive or directional. He helped them each explore their creativity and ways in which they could take their art.