Woodland Garden in Winter

Evelyn Domjan shares her ethereal view of the world at the Hungarian Museum

By:Indrani Datta
   Drawn by blooming magnolia trees, blue skies and flowers, Evelyn Domjan tackled her first landscape at age 7. Now, decades later, she laughs at her outsized ambition. "I was always an artist," she says. "Art is my life."
   Her work is being showcased at the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick, in Garden, Woodlands, and the Wide World Beyond, through Feb. 12. "I tried to come up with a title to express what she’s all about — her three main areas of inspiration," says Patricia Fazekas, curator of the museum. The exhibit space teems with colors and influences, like the rooms of Ms. Domjan’s home.
   In the capacious sitting room, works of art from around the world intermingle with woodcuts and paintings created in the adjoining studio. The wild, overgrown flower garden just outside the windows gives way to the wooded hills found in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., near the border between New Jersey and New York State.
   Ms. Domjan’s paintings of trees conjure seasonal timbres with austere blizzards, glowing moons, muted profusion, radiant splinters. Each cluster of the work in the exhibit evokes different moods.
   A native of Budapest, Hungary, Ms. Domjan started winning awards for her art before she was 6 years old. She was particularly inspired by other cultures. "My father was very generous," she says. "He gave me a marvelous set of oil paints, brushes — perfect!"
   One prestigious award followed another until Ms. Domjan’s admission into the Hungarian Royal Academy of Fine Arts. She studied graphic arts, making her first etching in 1943. "Life became impossible because of the war — no streetcar, no electricity," she remembers. "But when things got a little bit organized, I made picture postcards and then children’s illustrations." Ms. Domjan’s early postcards and illustrations are located at the entrance of the museum exhibit.
   With her penchant for luxuriant color and dense imagery, Ms. Domjan seems especially taken with summer. It was at an Academy summer art colony where she met Joseph Domjan. "Domjan was a painter, I was the graphic artist," she says. "Years later, we started to work together."
   Their collaborations — color woodcuts — are world-renowned. Intricate designs imbued with subtle colors create deep, rich textures. Besides attaining the Kossuth Prize, the highest art honor in Hungary, Mr. Domjan also earned the title of "Master of the Color Woodcut," awarded once every 100 years in China. His work is found in many public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Tate Gallery in London recently released a limited number of Christmas cards featuring a Joseph Domjan print.
   With and without her husband, Ms. Domjan has traveled all over the world. "I went somewhere every winter," she recalls. "Year after year, so many different places." Especially familiar with Europe — "In Europe, I am home" — she also spent summers in Australia, studied the woodcuts of Gauguin in Tahiti and stayed two or three months a year in India for several years.
   The influence of Indian art in her prints and woodcuts is evinced by both subject and detail. The onion domes of the Mughal Empire rise from sprawling, overrun gardens, while peacocks and elephants are themselves composed of architectural and organic elements.
   "I notice colors, plants, animals, traditions,"says Ms. Domjan. Her colored woodcut prints of the Chinese zodiac employ vivid colors and sharp geometry to summon each animal’s mojo. The detailed and sweeping plumage of "Eagle at Skylands" and "Fire Rooster" imbue the birds with distinct personalities. A quetzal’s feathers, spiky plants and delicate bursts of flowers punctuate a rainforest’s lush depth, as though a flash illuminates only the nearest surroundings.
   In organizing the exhibit, Ms. Fazekas chose from a plethora of paintings and prints. For her part, Ms. Domjan denies she has favorites, saying, "I love best what I will make tomorrow."
   Currently, she is working on a book of woodcut prints inspired by Africa and other projects inspired by her life. "I look out of the window and there’s a beautiful flower. And then I make a drawing. And the drawing becomes a woodcut," she explains. As for travel, she dreams of visiting the Angkor civilization in Cambodia, but for now, is looking forward to a Florida vacation and her grandson’s wedding in California.
   "She’s an amazing lady," says Ms. Fazekas. "Whenever I visit her, I always come away inspired. It makes me want to go home and paint pictures."
   Evelyn Domjan, the indomitable artist, continues to draw and paint and carve, even if her butterfly garden is still covered in snow. "I enjoy nature, animals, the light, the sunshine," she says. Gesturing at a huge tree outside her window, she laughs. "The magnolia tree — enormous. They have to cut it back, but I love it. Everything grows enormous here."
Garden, Woodlands and the Wide World Beyond — Paintings and Prints by Evelyn Domjan is on view at the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation, 300 Somerset St., New Brunswick, through Feb. 12. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. 1-4 p.m. Suggested contribution: $5. For information, call (732) 846-5777. On the Web: www.ahfoundation.org