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Color and technique are two important components to an artist. Every artist searches for time to develop her craft and create a unified body of work. An artist’s style can be as unique as her signature, and is often dependent on her medium. Artist Molly Hargarten is an exception to this rule. Hargarten’s vibrant use of color has
persisted through a major transition of media and genre.
Like many artists, Hargarten’s love of color began at an early age. “I was always drawn to the color orange,” Hargarten says, “if there was a party with multi colored balloons, I would grab the orange one. I became so enamored with orange that my father would buy things for me just because they were orange; a coffee mug, a night gown, things like that. He was self-employed and had his office in our home. He would get some of his supplies in packaging that included bright orange paper. He would save this paper for me and I would be thrilled as I drew on it. Also, after coloring Easter eggs I would take the left over dye and pour it into the sink mixing the colors and watch with fascination as they disappeared down the drain. When I was 44 and visiting my family, my mother (who painted with watercolor) made me sit down and play with her watercolors. I painted a garden scene that looked pretty good except for the flying snail that was supposed to be a butterfly. We got so many laughs from that.” Hargarten has become known for her humor and paintings with vibrant color.
Hargarten worked in watercolors for years, yet even after winning awards in the medium, she started to dabble and experiment with oil and acrylic paints, eventually liking oil best. Like any artist making a jump in medium, she was nervous her body of work would shift and become unrecognizable…AND she would get permanent paint all over her clothes. “Painters have two kinds of clothes,” says Hargarten, ”those with paint on them and those that WILL have paint on them. Also, my friends and collectors were still drawn to my painting because of the color. I can’t seem to paint without using vibrant pigments.”
As her career progressed Hargarten’s style began to change. “I was always interested in and liked abstract paintings and decided to try my hand at painting a few. A good friend of mine from my painting group, ‘Babes with Brushes’ does beautiful abstracts and she helped me with this transition, in fact the entire group did. I have shown several of these pieces and received positive feedback,” says Hargarten. “I especially like using a palette knife when I use oils. It is a challenge and I don’t have to clean brushes when I’m done!”
Hargarten grew up in the Midwest, beautiful Minnesota, in a small town surrounded by lakes. Her family would spend part of the hot summers at a cabin/resort on a northern lake, where Hargarten and her two siblings and kids from the other families would be in and out of the water, fish, and water ski and even swim to an island in the middle of the lake. She has many happy memories from her childhood. “My family was fun and funny. We would never get crabby on a trip; we would get slap-happy and laugh and laugh. Everyone in my family has a great sense of humor. This is something that is very important to me.”
After spending time on a backpack trip in the Colorado Mountains when she was in college, Hargarten moved to Lafayette, CO in 1980 where she met and married her husband of 33 years. “I love the West and the big open spaces and craggy mountains. This is now home to me.”
Hargarten recalls, “I wasn’t exposed to art until my 40’s when my Mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started to paint with watercolor as a way to engage in less physical activties to protect her joints. My mom had her paintings around their house and she enjoyed sharing the experience of creating artwork with me when I visited. She would paint charming pieces of the things she treasured. I loved it when she shared them with me and appreciated seeing what memories and things she held dear.”
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a 4 year degree, Hargarten entered school for her masters of science in exercise physiology at the University of Colorado. She worked in Cardiac Rehabilitation for several decades and at one point, pursued an MBA, focusing on health care management. She ended up leaving her MBA program and the hospital where she was employed and decided that she wanted to do something entirely different….so she jumped!
Hargarten landed in a travel company that had planned a trip to the South Pacific for her and her spouse and asked if they needed help. They did! She ended up traveling extensively in the South Pacific and became even more enthused with new lands and cultures. “The world is so different and so beautiful. There are warm, welcoming people all around it and it was a joy to experience this” she said. That added fuel to her love of travel. “Plus, there are so many interesting and colorful subjects to paint in the South Pacific. I was in heaven!”
After working with the travel company for several years she made a switch and started working at the University of Colorado at an Institutional Review Board. This is the department that oversees research on campus that uses humans as research subjects. “While the ethical issues were fascinating,’ she says “working with the day to day detail could be overwhelming, especially when we had to interpret the policies from the US government for the researchers. There was many a time when I would think, quick, let’s do some art and get back into the flow.”
The next big step in Hargarten’s life was something she never thought she would be able to do. Thanks to her husband’s foresight and planning they both retired early (age 50 & 52). This gave her the opportunity to delve even further into her art. “I set up a studio space in my basement so I could leave my paints set up and would spend hours engrossed in playing with color, composition and anything else that I could think of. It was a dream come true!”
After painting for 10+ years, Hargarten had the opportunity to become part owner of an art cooperative in her Colorado home, Lafayette. “I loved the artists that I worked with and our customers and students. I enjoyed being a business owner, but after 5 years I realized I needed to make another change.”
Hargarten and a close friend started a business planning and leading overseas art trips for local artists and their students. This added more fuel to Hargarten’s love of travel and cultures, plus she learned from each artist they booked. “The world is amazing and I want to see all that I can.” The groups visited many beautiful places in France, Italy, Spain and England. “We even rented houseboats and travelled the Lot River in Southern France, stopping and painting where we desired. Could it get any better than that?”
As this business endeavor came to a close, Hargarten decided to focus more on her painting and revving up her art career. She not only kept painting with watercolor, acrylic and oil but she added working with fused glass as well. “I get such a thrill when I hold a glass piece up to the light and look through it. The intense, vibrant color is almost more than I can take! I feel it boring into my soul and making me so happy.”
Many of her collectors agree with her thoughts on color. “I like to purchase art that is colorful and speaks to me. When I look at Molly's art or speak of it, I think of the joyfulness, humor and heart of Molly. She is as colorful as her art, if not more,” says Michael G., a dear friend and collector. Other comments from her collectors are, “It makes me happy!” “I love how free and loose it is.” “Molly is an absolute gem and it was such a positive experience getting this piece from her.”
When asked what subject matter she prefers, Hargarten says, “All I need for inspiration is to look out the window. I love nature and all that is in it. I enjoy watching birds and then painting them to capture their nuances. I carry my camera with me wherever I go and will take a quick snap shot of a color, composition, pattern, tree or whatever is speaking to me at the moment. I have taken pictures of cobblestones, people, animals, clouds, shadows; the list goes on and on. I have quite a collection of images that inspire me.”
Hargarten learned that she loved to paint after promising her mother that she would take lessons upon her return to CO. “I found my teacher and mentor out here. He is Jim Pedersen and is a talented artist and truly a good friend. I trust him implicitly and have painted with him for years.”
Hargarten is now taking a more serious approach to her art career. After painting for 17+ years, she is working with an on-line course to learn more of the business end of the art business. “I was pretty organized already but needed to up my game in a few areas. I am working on painting in series and being more detailed with my documentation regarding each piece. As I always say…organized, happy!” She has even started to teach again. “I find that when I teach, I become a better artist. I am more in tune with what makes a good painting and how to add interest and complete the techniques that I am teaching.”
When asked who her major artistic influences are, Hargarten responds quickly, “Vincent Van Gogh and Monet. I love both of their techniques and feel especially drawn to Vincent because of the personal struggles that he endured. His art career lasted only 10 years and he never had any traditional schooling, like me. In those 10 years he only sold one painting. I wish he could know now, how people revere his work. I think that would make him happy. I also love and respect the work that my artist friends produces. Together, we make quite an interesting group. We all have our own styles but work well together and support one another.”
One of the most memorable times of Hargarten’s career was her first show; a solo show. “I had 7 pieces to hang in a small area in a friend’s business. I had carefully chosen refreshments and sent out invitations to my friends and acquaintances. My mom even came out for the show to help me with my hair and what I was going to wear! I felt like I was getting married! By the end of the night, I had sold 10 paintings! All the paintings that were hanging and 3 commissions!”
Hargarten’s artwork can be found lighting up private collections in different corners of the world. Hargarten has sold her work through galleries and even more broadly on the internet. Her work has been featured in the Yellow Scene, a local publication and even covered by a Denver TV station. She is also a member of East Boulder County Open Studios Tour in Colorado, and her art can be found in Little Bird Gallery and Boutique, Artisans Gallery in Cherry Creek North in Denver, pARTicular’s Gallery in Lafayette, CO, Boulder Arts and Crafts Cooperative in Boulder and Up North Gallery in Lindstrom MN.
When she’s not in her studio, Hargarten can be found playing Mah Jongg, hiking and camping with her spouse, or traveling. She loves to spend time with her husband, friends and pets. She is always expanding her media or technique, and is perpetually inspired by the beauty of her surroundings.
Every painting is like a gift and mirrors the best parts of her. Ever happy, funny, and open, Hargarten’s artwork reflects vibrant colors that are part of her soul. There’s an honesty and happiness captured in each piece that will inspire a sense of wonder and exploration in her viewers and collectors.