Made in St. Louis: Artist's portraits bring subjects to life

Made in St. Louis: Artist's portraits bring subjects to life

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Artist Anne Molasky’s ambitions gained ground early when her second-grade teacher hung one of her artworks in a prominent spot on “the wall” in the classroom. Even then, Molasky’s ability to capture her subject’s attitude and personality shone through. Her batik featured a plucky ladybug replete with spots, antennae and a wide smile striding confidently across the cloth in bow-tied ballerina shoes.

“I put the story of that ladybug on my personal Facebook page because it’s so important to recognize a child’s art, craft, passion or talent — it encourages them to continue,” she says.

When she was 16, Molasky began studying painting, entered her first competition and won in the teen division. Her painting was hung at the prestigious Salmagundi Club in New York City, whose members have included American artists William Chase Merritt, Childe Hassam and N.C. Wyeth.

Her art education continued as she earned a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from Kansas City Art Institute and a master’s of fine arts from Washington University. She spent a year at the New York Studio School of Drawing and Painting. A lifelong learner, she continues to take workshops in painting, landscape and portraiture.

Today, Molasky earns her living as an artist. She maintains a studio in University City where she paints commissioned portraits of people and pets, as well as personal artworks. The distinctions between portraits and personal work are significant. “Portraits on commission are a very different animal,” she says. “I take them seriously. I am painting toward a particular end, which is not the same as painting for myself.”

A commissioned portrait begins with a conversation • “I like to talk to people to get a sense of what they expect,” she says. Some considerations are purely practical, such as size restrictions, or where the work will hang in the house. Others are about budgets and how Molasky is paid for her work. Some are practical.

“I like to establish who the painting is for at the beginning,” she says. “If it is for the parents alone, the group portrait works. If the mother and father want each child to inherit a portrait, individual portraits work. A group portrait can function as a family narrative.

“When my girls were 2 and 5 years old, I painted together, them sitting on a chair. My oldest daughter had her arm around her sister, looking ahead, proudly protective. My youngest was looking away, at the world around her, kind of oblivious to her sister. It exactly described their relationship at the time.”

Through the lens • Once the details are set, Molasky sets a date for a photo session. “I take hundreds of photos. I select three, four or five photos for the painting. One shot may have a good head, another good hands. I pick my top three and paint, working until I’m happy with it. My paintings aren’t photorealistic. I try to capture the character of a person through the eyes. I look for hand or body gestures that show personality, individuality.”

Molasky paints until she’s satisfied with the work, then she invites the parents to the studio for a preview. “There’s a portrait of a little boy that opens on my website, who is crossing his feet and toes. When his parents came to see it, they said ‘Oh my God! Those are his toes.’”

Plein air and alla prima painting • To keep her work fresh and lively, Molasky paints en plein air, directly onto canvasses, capturing landscapes in the open as they unfold before her.

She also paints alla prima, completing a quick portrait study in one three-hour sitting. These studies and landscapes appear on her website.

“It’s important to keep paint from life to keep your eye in. I like the loose edges, and textures in these studies.” Molasky invests her portraits with the energy and skill she gains from studio sessions. “That’s what gives paintings a level of maturity,” she says.

Art, comfort and compassion • Molasky’s ability to capture the nuances and the character of her subjects often evokes strong emotions when the completed works are revealed. She recalls a portrait she painted of twin granddaughters, commissioned by their grandmother. “The grandmother came into the studio and immediately began to cry,” she says. Molasky didn’t know what had triggered the strong reaction.

“The girls weren’t identical twins. The grandmother had lost a daughter at the same age as her granddaughters. She told me one of the twins was so like her daughter the painting caused her tears, but brought her comfort as well.”

Goddesses in the making • Molasky’s current studio project is a series of personal paintings that honor the strengths of women. The larger-than-life canvasses portray women at all stages of life. A young girl holds a baby owl in her hands, her face crossed by shadows, symbols of her wisdom.

A woman wearing a wreath of flowers on her head holds a raisin in her hand. Three hawks circle above her head. “The woman told me about a time when she nursed a young hawk and took it to a bird sanctuary. When the sanctuary released the hawk, they sent her a message. That day, she saw three hawks circling her home,” Molasky says.

Molasky, who herself exhibits perspicacity in telling her portraits of people, sage wisdom in her mysterious landscapes and peace in the drowsy beauty of her floral studies does seem well-acquainted with the goddesses.

Molasky Fine Art: Custom Portraits and Landscapes

Artist • Anne Molasky

Age • 58

Family • Mother of musicians Bella Ibur and Lily Ibur a.k.a. RUBI; Molasky lives with Ringo, a dog who found her during a painting excursion in the country and now works as her studio companion, walking buddy and guard dog.

Home • Richmond Heights

Where to buy •

How much • Landscapes $275 to $2,500; Pet portraits $400 and up; commissioned portraits of people start at $2,000

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