Alumni Profile

Arts devotee now producing her own work

"Unsettled," the centerpiece of "Odyssey," an exhibition of work by Michelle Bratsafolis '79 at the National Academy School of Fine Art

By David E. Nathan

After years as an enthusiastic visual arts devotee, Michelle (Sokol) Bratsafolis ’79 is now producing art of her own.

A curated selection of the lawyer-turned-painter/sculptor/alternative photographer’s work across several media was recently on view at the National Academy School of Fine Art in New York. She produced the work while enrolled in the prestigious school’s Studio Art Intensive Program.

bratsafolisThe child of immigrants who fled Europe after World War II, she has long been drawn to themes of identity, communication and memory. Her recent work has focused on global migration and was the thrust of the exhibition, entitled “Odyssey.”

“Even though my work couldn’t possibly resolve the complex problems raised by the current refugee crisis, it will hopefully prompt us all to think about how we respond to new people in our midst, and promote dialogue, tolerance and inclusion through understanding the realities endured by people who are displaced,” she says.

“Unsettled,” the major piece in the show, featured cyanotype prints on silk organza, cotton gauze and assorted papers. The translucent, ephemeral quality of the work is a metaphor for the plight of the migrants, whose existences and psyches are fragmented and in flux as they shed old identities and assume new ones while they move from place to place attempting to fit into new, yet often temporary, environments. Most images in the work are in silhouette rather than bearing distinct features that would identify particular people, underscoring the theme that all of us are from somewhere else.

As a Brandeis student, Bratsafolis majored in American Studies and took several pre-law courses, but also found time for a couple of art history classes, including “Introduction to Art History” with Elaine Loeffler and Gerald Bernstein’s “American Art and Architecture.”

“I had never before explored art as a vehicle for any message, whether it be social, political or religious,” recalls Bratsafolis. “A seed was planted at Brandeis, and through that I became much more interested in attending museums and gallery exhibitions.”

After graduating from Brandeis, she returned home to Long Island and earned her JD from Hofstra University School of Law. Bratsafolis practiced customs and international trade law for many years, all the while nurturing her interest in art through frequent museum visits.  Bratsafolis left the law in the 1990s for part-time work in the mortgage banking industry, which gave the mother of three more time at home with her children. She also began to nurture her creative side, enrolling in a class, “Oil Painting for Absolute Beginners,” at the 92nd Street Y in New York.  She continued there for many years, developing her technical skills and her artistic voice.

When the last of her children went off to college, she applied and was accepted into the National Academy School, where she continued painting and explored sculpture, cyanotypes (a form of alternative process photography), and other mediums. She has exhibited her work regularly in juried group shows, and for three consecutive years has had winning entries in the alternative photo processes competition, sponsored by the Soho Photo Gallery in Manhattan.

Bratsafolis credits her Brandeis experiences for opening her eyes to the wonders of art. She stays connected to her alma mater by serving on the Brandeis Arts Council. She now works from her studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“The actual making of art is very challenging and fulfilling,” she says. “It allows me to use a different part of my brain and express myself in a way that I hadn’t before, creating something from the interaction of my mind, my eyes and my hands. I hope that my work’s exploration of themes involving identity, communication and memory will resonate with others and prompt meaningful dialogue about some of the more compelling issues of our time.”

The “Odyssey” exhibition ran through Oct. 29 at the Sonia Gechtoff Gallery at the National Academy School, 5 E. 89th St., New York. Her work from this year’s alternative photo processes competition can be seen from Nov. 2-Dec. 3 at the Soho Photo Gallery, 15 White St., New York.

Date: October 24, 2016