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Jon Molvig - Australian Expressionist

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Helge Jon Molvig was an Australian Expressionist Artist who is considered to have had a major impact on the development of 20th Century Australian Expressionism.

Born in Newcastle NSW on the 27th of May in 1923, Molvig was truly a rare human being. Gregarious and straightforward Jon was said to be brutally honest and unable to abide stupidity. Gifted with a truly compassionate nature and deep understanding, Jon exhibited gentleness towards all living things, including the human race with all of its imperfections.

Molvig’s unique talents became evident in 1958/59 when he painted the ‘Centralian’ series after his experiences travelling through central Australia. With the Centralian paintings Molvig incorporated Australian Aboriginal symbolism in his own interpretations of the Australian landscape.

An emotional and intuitive painter, Molvig was concerned with “humanity and its follies”, inventing symbols and a particular ‘style’ to suit the criteria of the subject he was painting. This approach is evident in his ‘Eden Industrial’ series from 1962, impressive images of Adam and Eve in an industrialized Garden of Eden - with the heavily textured surfaces achieved by burning layers of paint with a blowtorch.

Molvig’s ‘Pale Nude’ series in 1964 revealed once again the influence Australian Aboriginal art had on him, his symbolism perhaps distilled and most perfectly expressed in the ‘Tree Man’ series of 1968.

Molvig won the Archibald Prize (a prestigious Australian portrait prize) in 1966 with a remarkable portrait of painter Charles Blackman. Interestingly, portraits of Molvig by artist John Rigby were hung in the Archibald in 1953 and 1959.

During his 20-year career as an accomplished visual artist, Molvig won many other prizes, including:

  • 1955 and 1956 Lismore Prize

  • 1961 Transfield Prize

  • 1963 Perth Prize

  • 1965 David Jones Prize

  • 1966 Corio Prize

In the late fifties and early sixties, Molvig held very informal, weekly life drawing classes, which were central to the Brisbane arts scene at the time. Molvig also served as a mentor to various emerging artists such as:

  • John Aland

  • Andrew Sibly

  • Gordon Shepherdson

  • Mervyn Moriarty

  • Joy Roggencamp

An accomplished and honest portrait painter, Molvig was known for painting portraits of many of his fellow artists along with a number of privately commissioned portraits. Molvig’s self portrait for example, serving as powerful addition to the Queensland Art Gallery collection. Noteworthy subjects of Molvig’s portraits were:

  • Charles Blackman

  • Russel Drysdale

  • Barry Humphries

  • Paul Beadle

  • Sir Charles Moses

  • Sir Percy Spender

In fitting tribute, Molvig’s art was celebrated at Queensland Art Gallery during in an impressive exhibition, which began in 2019 and ended in 2020. This event was a major retrospective of Molvig’s works, the exhibition appropriately titled ‘Maverick’.


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