Oscar Molina: From Immigrant to Southampton Artist & Gallery Owner

Oscar Molina
Oscar Molina

It is a crisp, clear, searingly sunny October day in the Hamptons and Oscar Molina is talking about his journey from El Salvador to the United States in the summer of 1989.

“I got here (Long Island) in the fall and the temperature was just about what it is right now,” says Molina, in a reflective tone. “It’s very interesting.”

Molina was 16 years old when he took the trip from his civil war-torn country in Central America to the States with one of his older brothers. Politically, the army in his country was recruiting and “the goal was to take off and go,” he says. “My parents signed a piece of paper and it was, ‘See you later,’” he recalls.

Understandably, he was scared “in a way,” he says.

“You start something, you take a journey and you don’t know … in those days there were no phones other than a letter — you send it and hope it gets there.”

Today, 33 years later, you might say Oscar Molina has arrived. He is CEO of a high-end masonry company, M.O.E. Masonry, and an artist and owner of the Oscar Molina Gallery on Jobs Lane in Southampton, which he opened this past Memorial Day weekend. His work has been shown at the Southampton Arts Center and he had a solo show in Washington, D.C. this past year.

A piece in the Oscar Molina "Children of the World" series
A piece in Oscar Molina’s “Children of the World” series

Molina’s journey has taken him from Shirley, where he first arrived on Long Island, working with family members on a tree farm, to Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays (where he bought his first home).

Along the way Molina took jobs in landscaping and masonry, learning all aspects of construction and renovation, ultimately working for private companies with high-end clients. At night and after work hours, Molina took classes in Patchogue and at Suffolk County Community College to learn English.

He also took classes in drafting, architecture and landscaping as well as sketching and drawing. In 1997 he found he “loved spending time down in the basement sketching.” He started painting in oils.

Out in the field, Molina’s passion for masonry won out and after working for a private company with high-end clients, he struck out on his own and, with the blessing of his former employer, formed M.O.E. Masonry based in Southampton in 1996.

With 18 employees, the company serves “anything from masonry and installations of any scale and size (the concrete work at the Parrish  Art Museum is one of his projects), from Sands Point to Montauk,” he says.

“I’m a CEO of the company and partial owner,” points out Molina, who after many years, has since focused himself on his new career: art.

In 2013, Molina “made the decision to go full power with the arts.” Through his masonry and landscaping work, Molina met not only influential architects, builders and business folks, he met established artists locally such as Eric Fischl and Paton Miller, who he says were his “inspirations” and have since become his “mentors.”

Molina cites masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Warhol (his flowers) “and a little bit of Salvador Dali” as his influences. At his gallery, Molina is showing multiple artists, both local and international, with a focus on “multi-ethnic arts.”

A piece in Oscar Molina "Children of the World" series
A piece in Oscar Molina’s “Children of the World” series

Processions: Enrique Cabrera & J. Oscar Molina

In a full-circle moment, Molina’s new exhibition at his gallery features his Children of the World series, consisting of abstract works that reflect the vivid memory of Molina’s journey to the United States. The series is “a vision of silhouetted figures in the nights … faceless individuals making the treacherous crossing to a new life.”

He is also taking his concrete work to new artistic levels in the form of abstract sculptures (nine of his white abstract sculptures are part of an installation at Hampton Coffee in Water Mill).

The new show themed Processions will also feature the sculptures of artist Enrique Cabrera, who draws from his Mexican roots to depict death and rebirth. It opens on October 14.

For Molina, it is all about the journey.

“I feel the moment is now to talk about emigration around the world,” says Molina. “I want the world to believe (see) my world as an immigrant, so if I close my eyes and I don’t see the person in front of me or the person behind, I can only feel their presence. I can feel their presence and energy all around and I would probably be a much better human being than having to see and then having to create this visual line between us.”

Processions: Enrique Cabrera & J. Oscar Molina opens on Friday, October 14 and runs through November 8 at the Oscar Molina Gallery, 28C Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-514-4414.

For more information about Oscar Molina, visit oscarmolinagallery.com and moemasonry.com.

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