Water in the desert: Artist explores climate change

Mission Street Arts artist-in-residence Daniela Molnar looks at a black paint she made from substances she found in nature in her studio in Jemez Springs. Photo by Amy Byres.

JEMEZ SPRINGS — An artist working in the Jemez Mountains is utilizing natural light and water resources to capture a deeper understanding of climate change.

Daniela Molnar takes an intimate approach to her work by incorporating the environment she is in and the emotions she feels into her art, she said.

“Our identities are formed in concert with the place (we are in), and that is the crux of my work, is how we form our identities in relation to place,” she said.

Molnar is from New York City and lives in Portland, Ore. She is spending the next month in the Jemez Mountains on a residency with Mission Street Arts.

The residency is allowing her to work on a few projects in a new environment. Molnar lives in a large house with a family residing in one half and in the other half are two studio spaces and an upstairs sleeping quarters.

“I love doing residencies because they offer the time and space to really focus and create work and in a way that seems impossible to replicate in daily life,” she said.

The house is surrounded by the changing leaves of cottonwood trees and has different outdoor spaces where Molnar is working.

“I am at this transition point in my personal life, in some ways, and in my career, in some ways; and I just felt like I really needed a good solid month — which is how long I am going to be here — to focus in on some projects,” she said.

According to Molnar’s website, she is a visual artist, poet, wilderness guide, educator, essayist, activist and eternal student.

A detail shot of a painting by Daniela Molnar from her most recent series, New Earth. The painting maps Canadian and Andean glacier melt. “This series envisions how climate change is reshaping our planet and our embodied experience of it,” she said on her Instagram, @daniela_naomi_molnar. Courtesy photo.

Much of Molnar’s work consists of abstract paintings. She is versed in other media like paper, water and the written word, Molnar said.

She is working on a project about climate change. This project consists mostly of abstract paintings, she said.

“I am thinking about how the surface of the Earth is actually shifting, in ways that some of us can feel and experience with our senses,” she said.

The climate change project consists of multiple series. Molnar’s main focus while in Jemez Springs is to work on a series called the Typography of Water, she said.

“The reason I was drawn to this particular area is this sort of special relationship with water that exists here because there are mineral hot springs,” she said.

While driving to New Mexico from Portland, she noticed the dryness and desert landscapes around her. Molnar said if she were to pull off to the side of the road and get lost in the desert, she would die due to a lack of water and exposure.

“Part of its beauty is how it is treacherous because of the lack of water,” she said.

Molnar makes many of her own paints out of what she finds in the environment. She creates pigments out of plants, soil and rocks, and then processes them before adding water, Molnar said. She uses rainwater, river water, spring water or any other water source in her environment.

“This is a way of making a painting that is very connected to the place that I am in,” she said. “It is interesting, I have been working with water for a long time and on the drive here, I just had this very clear idea of wanting to make a painting that is a photo-realist representation of water.”

Molnar doesn’t typically paint in a photo-realist, but her surroundings have had an influence on her creative vision, she said.

“There is something about the scarcity of water, or the preciousness of water in this landscape, that makes me want to actually stare at an image of water and try to put that into my work,” she said.

Thus far, Molnar has been in her residency for about a week. She has noticed the effect the light in New Mexico is having on her work.

“I knew the light was going to be really different from the light that I am used to in the Northwest. Which is this sort of filtered lighting; the shadows are always long at noon,” she said. “And the light here is so intense and bright and clear. I have been loving that.”

The light is making her work experience a sense of accuracy, with how exact edges are on shadows in New Mexico, Molnar said.

She brought materials to incorporate cyanotype into her pieces. This photographic printing process uses ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide that, once applied to paper, makes it photosensitive. Areas exposed to light will turn blue, she said.

When she would use this process in Portland, it would take about 20 to 30 minutes for the paper to be exposed to the sun. Here, she is predicting it will take about two or three minutes, Molnar said.

She wants to place leaves she finds on top of the paper so underneath won’t be exposed and then will move the leaf to record movement, she said.

“I am excited to be actually collaborating with the sun to see what happens with that,” she said.

To learn more about Molnar’s work, visit danielamolnar.com.

Molnar invites residents to reach out to her to talk. She said understanding others’ relationships with the environment and water contributes to her experience as an artist.

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