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Mills artist loves simplicity, color; inspired by items in everyday life

Michelle Ma

Senior Melissa Ghorbani sticks a styrofoam ball onto a stick, covers it with glue and plunges it into a large bag filled with thousands of miniature styrofoam balls. She pulls it out, shaking it slightly and examining it. Then she dusts it with pink and adds it to the line of unnatural plant-like forms by her work station.

After she installs the pieces behind the sculpture building, her final undergraduate sculpture assignment will be done.
Ghorbani, 27, is graduating with a degree in Studio Art this spring; her pieces were featured in the senior thesis exhibition Swell in the art museum with her fellow graduating artists.

Art always attracted her, even when she was a young girl; she designed her room, picking out colors and deciding where things should go.

“When it was ‘art time,’ I was stuck to the table,” she said. “That’s what I was interested in.”

Color is still a major factor in Ghorbani’s designs. Her Oakland apartment of two years has slate blue, chartreuse and pale yellow, and she hasn’t even gotten to the bedroom yet. The only color she admits to hating is mauve, and she can’t choose a favorite.

“I feel like I’d be insulting the other colors,” she said.
Her pieces in the senior exhibit are, however, without much color. The tips of the wall piece boast the pale pink that is the single exception. There are 940 of the ‘entities’ on the ceramic wall, but Ghorbani and her boyfriend, Jason Agnew, made over a thousand just in case something happened.

“I really took the time to plan for the space,” Ghorbani said. “From start to finish it was a very precise, tedious process, and that’s not usually how I work.”

The pair worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week from the beginning of the semester until installment day, logging 200 hours per person.

Each piece had to be manipulated when wet, sanded and glazed – all by hand.

“She’s very detail oriented in everything she does,” Agnew said. “She’s a perfectionist at heart.”

Agnew turned out to be a great help with the piece, and he didn’t seem to mind.

“A lot of things in a relationship are very work based,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have found someone to do these things with.”

Ghorbani transferred as a second semester sophomore from Diablo Valley College.

“Coming in, I knew I wanted to do art, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. Now I know the steps to get someplace,” she said.

Ghorbani rented a studio space in an old naval hanger in Alameda for work after Mills.

“I think it’s finally happening. I’ve always told her she has a natural talent,” said Marc Virata, Ghorbani’s friend for over a decade. “She’s finally looking for a studio and really going for it.”

Ghorbani took her first ceramics class in middle school, but her interest wasn’t piqued until high school.

“I like being able to manipulate and get an immediate result because I see things three-dimensionally; I work three-dimensionally. I didn’t know I could do that until I picked up clay,” she said.

Pottery is a dirty word to her.

“I think the potential is huge, and not many people take advantage of that,” she said.

Studio Art department head Ron Nagle couldn’t agree more.
“It’s about ideas, and if clay is part of it, that’s fine, and if it doesn’t, that’s fine too,” he said.

Working with clay has made Ghorbani more patient.

“It’s been so frustrating at times that I just have to step back and let it go,” she said. “Some of the simplest looking things are the most difficult things to make.”

Ghorbani collects random items she finds interesting, such as postcards and wrapping paper for inspiration. Anything can bring about a piece: colors, form and everyday objects.

“I feel like everything influences me; when I have a conversation with someone else who works in the medium and we start talking about it,” she said. “I’m inspired by someone else’s process.”