A man struggles with a busted garbage bag in a back alley.
The proprietor, Mousy, stands proudly next to the cash register admiring his own portrait hanging on the wall.
A couple embraces outside the bathroom — reconciling after a fierce booze-fueled argument.
A woman cries on the pay telephone.
Who could she be talking to?
A year ago, Mousy’s Bar only existed in Mike Mollicone’s mind.
After working with bits of wood, ceramics and other chunks of media, he brought the imaginary dive to life and last Monday he hung it on a gallery wall.
“My overall intention with my work is to create a space that people can identify with and understand,” Mollicone explained. “In these spaces, I try to tell stories and give clues as to who people are as a character, what they're doing, who they're with. I really focus on hammering in details to give realistic layers to the space and add to its authenticity.”
He adjusted the wiring rigged to the artwork’s subtle lighting accents.
“At the same time, while feeling ‘real,’ I have a very caricature-like style with how the people, places, and situations are presented that make it campier and more fun,” Mollicone said. “It's as if everything feels slightly off, but it still makes sense within the piece.”
A Johnston native and resident, Mollicone just earned his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College (RIC). As a studio art major, he won this year's Senior Award for his sculpture, titled “Mousy’s Bar.”
“He's also an avid cinephile who has worked as a production assistant on a number of commercials, film productions and a TV pilot in both Rhode Island and Boston,” wrote John Taraborelli, Director of Communications & Public Relations for RIC. “Michael has already been accepted into our master's program in art education for the fall, and we know he's going to go on to do great things.”
Mollicone’s work has impressed members of the RIC faculty, including Professor of Art William Martin, who specializes in sculpture.
“I had Michael as a student in all of my 3-D foundations courses,” Martin said. “He was one of the best students in the class. He had the most interesting interpretations of the assignments I gave and he exhibited an extra level of independence and ambition early on.”
Mollicone created “Mousy’s Bar” during the Fall 2022 semester.
"As we came back to class from COVID, I had him in my metalworking and woodworking classes, where he experimented with different materials,” Martin recalled. “He took a lot of ceramics and a lot of sculpture courses. He was a really terrific student and continued to do really creative interpretations of whatever I asked. So, I wasn’t surprised, as he continued on into his upper-level classes, that he turned out to be such a great student and ended up winning the Senior Award.”
Mollicone gave a tour of Mousy’s last week, as he made the final adjustments to his exhibition in RIC’s Alex & Ani Hall.
“I love great stories, movies, anything narrative,” Mollicone said. “With this piece especially, I have several small narratives for people to latch on to. It's really an ensemble piece, no interaction really overpowers another. It's great when I hear people talking about it because everyone always latches on to something different.”
The setting and its characters have loose roots wrapped around old memories from a family restaurant Mollicone visited as a child.
“I will say that the old man playing cards in the back is someone I see as Mousy’s uncle,” Mollicone said. “I hint to that a little bit in the restaurant. There’s a large family picture on the wall in the main room where there’s a younger version of that man painted in. That was just a small detail I added more for myself. If anyone ever noticed I’d be really surprised.”
A campaign poster’s hung on the barroom wall, urging patrons to “Elect Russo” (a reference to one of Mollicone’s relatives, Ralph aRusso).
When he’s not in the art studio, Mollicone can often be found on an Ocean State film set.
“He had been working on movie production crews in Providence and actually ended up taking a semester break to work on a crew,” Martin recalled. “When he came back, he really threw himself into making these much more theatrical, movie-set-like pieces. He had these notebooks full of these very expressive faces/characters. His sculptures were settings of people interacting. They were a combination of his Italian family background — his experiences of Italian American clubs and growing up in Johnston — as well as the expressive characters in his sketch books and his movie production work.”
Mollicone has been trying to build his artistic voice — his signature.
“The pieces that he makes are both captivating and humorous,” Martin said. “They really draw you in and you begin to imagine who these characters. He does a really good job of bringing together all of his influences. The pieces on exhibit in the gallery here are a combination of everything he was exposed to for the last four years.”
Most of the stories unraveling at Mousy’s Bar exist solely in the mind of the beholder.
“There are some cases that I’ve given stories to the characters to help develop them more in order for me to put them in the space,” Mollicone said. “However, I try not to give a lot of that away … That way everyone can enjoy their own version of it when they see it.”
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