By David Tulloch
A professor at Algonquin is quickly making a name for herself outside of the college as she rises among the ranks of Ottawa’s local artists.
Amy Schissel, 30, is a professor of traditional media and the business of art at Algonquin, as well as an academic advisor and a coordinator of the introduction to fine arts program. She is an abstract painter and has been featured in numerous art shows. For Schissel, art has always been a natural part of life.
“I didn’t have to learn it,” she said. “I just grew up with it.” Schissel’s mother, Catherine Schissel, is also an artist, and that helped expose Amy to art from a very young age. She spent a lot of time in her mother’s studio as a child, something she credits with fostering her creative ability.
In 1998, Schissel enrolled in Carleton University’s music program, but transferred to the art program only a year later, finding music “too regimented.”
“I felt like I belonged in something more expressive,” she said. She spent the next four years working towards her Bachelor of Fine Arts. During that time, she lived in a house with four other students, all of them being artists. She spent much of her free time drawing alone in the basement.
While in school, Schissel had to take a job at Sears getting paid to dress mannequins each day. Her mother is all too familiar with the scenario.
“As an artist, you have to work,” Catherine said. “You’re always struggling; you just have to live for your passion. If you pursue your passion, you’ll always be a happier person.”
When she graduated in 2003, Schissel spent the next four years travelling back and forth between Ottawa and Europe, always carrying her notebook. She visited numerous art museums, trying to gain as much inspiration and influence as possible.
During her final trip, she managed a hostel in Scotland. It was while working here that she received an email from the University of Ottawa accepting her to the Masters program. Within the week, she packed her bags and flew home.
It was during this time, Schissel said, that the career she has now really began. For the program, applicants would apply with a pre-existing body of work, and would spend their time in the program enhancing that work. The small size of the class – comprised of six students – allowed the professors to spend more time with each student. They were also regularly visited by other established artists from outside of the university.
Ryan Ward, Schissel’s brother-in-law, has known her for 13 years now, and has had the opportunity to watch her grow in her art.
“Her art is really different than anything I’ve seen out there,” said Ward. He pointed out that when she started, she mainly did portraits. What they lacked in colour, they made up for in texture, a quality that Schissel’s work retains to this day.
In 2008, Schissel had her first curated show. In 2009, she had her second. From there, she said, “things exploded.”
“I had gone from drawing alone in a basement to having the whole Ottawa art scene open to me.”
When she graduated her Masters, she received her first commercial representation – Patrick Mikhail, namesake of the Patrick Mikhail Gallery.
“He represents some of the best artists in Ottawa,” Schissel said, “so I felt really excited to get in.”
Her most recent project is a series of paintings she is presenting at Volta NY, an “invitational show of solo artists’ projects”, as described by the website. Her work is titled Cyber Fields, a series of nine panels, 96 x 132 inches, of digitally influenced paintings. The paintings represent the international community that has been created with the internet.
“It’s the idea that, via cellphones or computers, you can be anywhere in the world and send or receive information,” claims Schissel. “Cyber Fields is a visualization of otherwise invisible information flows that negate the need of geographical location for human interaction.”
Each panel is displayed in three sections on the canvas. The bottoms of each canvas show mountains and landscapes, an idea that was inspired by Schissel’s many journeys throughout Europe. The two top sections are both formed from thousands of lines, representing “internet maps and interconnectivity of digital information flows.
Schissel feels that she was moved to create this piece due to an ever-present anxiety she feels towards technology.
“Everything is becoming so ephemeral,” she explains. “You don’t need location anymore.” While the idea frightens her, she is also excited by the future of technology and the benefits that it may bring.
Of course, as an artist, the advancement of technology does lead her to question her art. What will happen with the advancement of digital tools? Schissel is uncertain.
“Is painting a dying art form? Or is painting going to have a whole new life in retrospect?”