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Husband, brother, artist, teacher, mentor, raconteur, humorist, gourmet cook. Born Aug. 7, 1960, in Welland, Ont. Died Oct. 13, 2010, in Toronto of leukemia-related causes, aged 50.

At the celebration of John Molnar's life, one of his art students recalled that John looked out on his class one day and said, "Isn't it a miracle we're all here? I mean, really."

That pretty much sums up how John felt about his life, his students and his art.

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John had a troubled childhood and adolescence, but was gifted both artistically and intellectually. He could draw anything at an early age and idolized the illustrators from Marvel Comics, many of whom he could copy with precision. He was also an incessant reader, and became a walking encyclopedia of art history. Needless to say, he was practically impossible to beat at Trivial Pursuit.

In 1979, John attended Niagara College, where Ken Cosgrove, one of his mentors, urged him to come to Toronto and enroll at the Ontario College of Art. At OCA, John quickly learned it was okay to be a bit different. He became known as a stellar chess player, a raconteur and a humorist.

After graduating in 1984, John accepted a job as a storyboard/layout artist at Grey Advertising - his first and last real job, and the place where he met a writer named Cathy Bennett, with whom he spent nearly 24 years.

Following Grey, John freelanced as an illustrator and eventually moved into editorial illustration. But his real passion was fine art, which he began to pursue full-time in the late 1980s.

Quickly becoming known for his lush landscape paintings in casein, John became the go-to person for expertise on the medium and answered questions from artists all over the world.

In mid and late career, John painted in oils as well as casein, and came to believe that an artist really "earns his chops" by painting from life. When he and Cathy lived in Toronto's Little Italy, he set up his easel on College Street. The raconteur in him loved the discourse with people who stopped by.

Between the hundreds of hours he chalked up painting, John discovered the joys of teaching. And he was good at it. He got the best out of everyone, regardless of natural talent, and used his razor-sharp wit to make art fun.

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John taught many workshops and was artist in residence at Workman Arts, where he taught en plein air and art fundamental classes. He had seven solo shows, participated in group and juried shows and won many awards.

John left a legacy of art that will keep his spirit alive forever. And he left his many friends, students and colleagues with memories of his keen sense of humour, kindness and willingness to help others. A devoted, caring husband, John loved to cook, and he continued preparing delectable meals for Cathy when he felt well enough - right up to their last barbecue on the night before he was admitted to hospital.

By Cathy Bennett, John's wife

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