Eric Bransby: Mural master at 96
With: Eric Bransby and Trevor Thomas
What: An exhibition that looks at the drawings, photographs and video used by Bransby and Thomas to produce their 75th anniversary FAC mural
When: Saturday through Jan. 6
Where: The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Something Else: You can easily view two of Eric Bransby's most impressive murals here in the Springs. One can be found in the domed stairway in Cosslitt Hall on the Colorado College campus; the other on the second floor of the Pioneer's Museum.
Two years ago, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's CEO and president Sam Gappmayer and museum director Blake Milteer asked Eric Bransby if perhaps he had "one more mural in your back pocket."
The Colorado Springs-based artist and teacher, who is 96, thought he might. The result of that conversation is now in place in the main hallway of the Taylor Museum.
The completed project, which is the artist's 35th mural, will be celebrated with "A Mural in the Making," which looks at the process he and his assistant, Colorado College graduate Trevor Thomas, went through to turn Bransby's drawings into the 27-foot-long mural, which celebrates the Fine Arts Center's 75th anniversary.
As Bransby explains it, the mural could have just as easily pictured a "mythology subject or something like that. I just suddenly had a desire to show what an art center's all about."
In eight panels, images capture the multitude of disciplines that have defined the FAC over the years: music, children's arts education, a professional arts school, printmaking, dance and theater. Along the way, Bransby captures major contributors to the institution or its antecedent, the Broadmoor Arts Academy, including painter Boardman Robinson, who is considered the "Father of the FAC," artist and instructor Lawrence Barrett and dancer Martha Graham, whose performance christened the building in 1936.
The Gazette: There have been so many currents in the world since you decided to make a career eight decades ago. Do you feel that, as an artist, time has passed you by?
Eric Bransby: Not really, but that's the artist speaking. There's a lot of abstract stuff in this. I'm inside an abstract art form, architecture. I'm doing a little bit of Thomas Hart Benton in there, a little bit of Boardman Robinson and a little bit Jean Charlot from the Mexican group.
Gazette: And where is Eric Bransby?
Bransby: I don't know. Robinson said once, "we unwind as we were wound." He was wound by a number of people like I was. I was wound also by Josef Albers at Yale and he's totally nonobjective, abstract. I've been taken apart by some of the best people in the country at the time and I'm unwinding in the Bransby manner. I'm still in there.
Gazette: How did the mural end up in this space?
Bransby: Sam (Gappmayer) and Blake (Milteer) walked me through the building and they has some sites picked out - in both the old and new parts. And I said, "No, I want you to go and look at this spot here. The reason is you have people coming up the ramp to get into the galleries and people coming down the ramp. And you have people coming directly out of the Loo Gallery here and you have people from the staircase above looking down on the mural." And they went up and looked at it from the balcony and said, "It's yours. Go for it."
Gazette: How did you get started?
Bransby: I went to my wife, Mary Ann, and daughter, Fredericka, and they said, "You need to be back in the studio." I'd been a caregiver for my wife 10 years so it was a big change. Fredericka was here at the time of her mother's death. She turned around and she pointed at me and said, "You're gonna do that mural." I found Trevor (Thompson). He had just graduated from (Colorado College) and been to Florence, Italy, for four months and been to Sweden on printmaking.
Gazette: How did it work having him as your assistant?
Bransby: You tell him to do a certain thing once and you don't have to tell him twice. There's a lot of skill there. We're trying to get him into an MFA program so he can teach at the graduate level. He was there every day. The design was totally mine but he learned a hell of a lot about mural painting and was happy to do so. He was like a sponge.
Gazette: That's your wife as a young woman in the third panel?
Bransby: That's her.
Gazette: Do you think she minds you're not in the mural, too?
Bransby: I'm in the painting. I am the painting. She's happy. I lost her in the middle of the work. She wasn't in there originally, but then she was.
Gazette: There's obviously an influence of cubism in the mural and the composition from panel to panel is fresh and engaging. But this is 2012 and this figurative style of art is all but gone from the artistic landscape.
Bransby: During the 1950s when we had to come back here for our daughter's health - she was critically ill with asthma - I went up to see (painter) Vance Kirkland in Denver. He was a little bit of a role model for me. He'd gone totally abstract. He said, "I hate to tell you this, Eric. You're never, ever going to see the figure in art again. This abstract movement is so comprehensive. You're never going to see wall painting again." So I go home and I look in the mirror and I said, "Why are you in this field?" It's like telling a musician that you cannot play Bach. I say to myself, "The basic reason that I'm in this is the human figure and the wall. I'm gonna do them whether it's in favor or not."
Gazette: This is hardly a space where one would expect to find a mural. How did you make it work?
Bransby: I knew I would come up with very small height on these panels - the smallest I'd probably ever done. So I wanted to do a dance movement with these figures as they move from left to right across the wall. It's the Parthenon figures moving across the wall. I see this as a frieze on a side of a Greek building. I'm a strong believer of integrating art into the design of the building. The new galleries are a very severe design - quite 21st century - and this thing has to live within that design matrix.
Gazette: Glad you mentioned the new space. There have been two major buildings added to the regional museum scene in recent years - the Hamilton Wing at the Denver Art Museum and the Taylor Museum here at the FAC. What do you think of them?
Bransby: An art museum, in spite of what they did in Denver, is designed to exhibit visual art. And most of the architects go in on an ego trip for them to make a statement they can't make anywhere else. They have taken them as the "place I want to do my work. I can try some design things that would be impossible in different circumstances." As far as I'm concerned the new building in Denver (the Hamilton Wing) is its own piece of sculpture. As a place to exhibit works of art? Forget it.
This museum is severe but it has walls to hang and display art and has the lighting to do it. It holds down the desire of the architect to get flashier or make some wild statement. It's a good place to show. I'm happy with it.
Gazette: Does this mural represent the end of your work as an artist?
Bransby: There's no stopping. I've got work to do. Isaac Stern, the violinist, made the statement, "If I don't exercise once a day, my wife knows it. If I don't do my exercises for a week, the whole world knows it."
Gazette: Do you still enjoy the attention and praise you get from producing art?
Bransby: I have two ways that I react. If I get attention and someone praises me to the high heavens, I go back and look in the mirror and I say to myself, "You know, you're really not that good." If somebody says, "This thing stinks," I say to myself, "I'm better than that and I know it."