Michael Branca - Fine Art
Senior Artists Show their Stuff

Colby Magazine cover, May 1996

Senior Artists Show their Stuff

by Kevin Cool

Colby Magazine

May 1996, cover/pages 30-31

Ask Michael Branca '96 (Milton, Mass.) to describe his work and his eyes brighten.

He holds up a sculpture formed from a discarded telephone receiver and a wine jug covered with a thick layer of wax. It looks like the head of a creature from Star Trek. "I'm sort of into this decapitation thing," he said with a wry grin, which explains the nearby sculpture of a head with a noose around it inside a makeshift cage and the large painting of a man brushing his teeth while holding his head in his left hand. "Some people think these are kind of gross," Branca said in a way that suggested nothing could please him more. "I try to put humor in what I do."

Branca's cheeky paintings and sculpture are part of the senior art exhibition that opened at the Colby Museum of Art in early May. His work, and that of the other students in the show, represents the culmination of four years of study and technical maturation. It's also a payoff for the solitary hours in the studio where, until now, these pieces resided unseen.

"It's very exciting to have a chance to show my work," Branca said. "I want people to be confronted by it."

Stephanie Sack '96 (Salisbury, Vt.) also is grateful for the opportunity to display her art. "I'm excited to hear what people think," she said. "It's interesting to have some feedback to know whether my work affects people differently."

Sack produced a collection of paintings using a common subject--sea shells-to emphasize line and color. She says that shapes found in nature always have inspired her painting. "I really like the layering effect you find in shells. It allows you to bring out the texture and lines," she said.

Branca relies heavily on "found objects"--junk--as points of inspiration. A section of pegboard he located in a refuse pile near the Physical Plant building provided the canvas for one of his paintings, which depicts-what else?--a headless man driving a car about to run over his head, which is lying in the road. While in Rome during his junior year, Branca fashioned a public sculpture from old televisions and mangled motor scooters he retrieved from a trash heap. "The junk provides a springboard," he said. "It's hard to come up with ideas, and sometimes this stuff gets me started."

Sack also spent a semester abroad, in Botswana, and she says the experience influenced her art in ways studio practice could not. "I gained so much knowledge about how other people live that it can't help but change how I view the world," she said. "I'm sure that shows up in my painting."

Professor of Art Harriett Matthews says students who qualify for the senior art show have completed at least four semesters of course work in the medium in which they are exhibiting. Branca is the only student exhibiting both painting and sculpture, she says. "Not every student who participates in the show is an art major," she said. "The beauty of a small program like this is that students who work in other fields can also be quite serious about their art."

She pointed out a human figure sculpture made from wood pieces in a variety of geometrical shapes. " This was produced by a science student who is participating in the show," she said. "I have had students who went on to graduate school in art who were honor students in a different major at Colby."

Matthews says teaching studio art at a liberal arts college is rewarding because it gives students a way to express themselves that they might not have explored otherwise. "By the time they are putting together a senior show they have developed their own vision," she said.

"The best thing about showing my paintings is that somebody besides me will see them," Sack said. "My mom always wants them on her wall, but I can't live with them there. I want to change them. It's hard to figure out when they're done."