February 12, 2014 – “Toby Sisson: Then & Now,” an exhibition of dozens of paintings, prints and drawings by Providence, R.I.-based artist Toby Sisson, opens at Dutchess Community College’s Mildred I. Washington Art Gallery on Feb. 24. A public reception to be attended by the artist will be held Feb. 26 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The show runs through March 28.
Sisson works mainly in black and white, using the combined medium of encaustic, graphite, charcoal, oil and ink on paper or wood. The textured, layered surfaces of her abstract paintings, drawings and collages, her asymmetrical but carefully balanced compositions, and the dynamic expressiveness of her marks, which combine deliberation with spontaneity, result in an art that is process-oriented, elemental and universal. Her tonal palette, which juxtaposes black and white and includes the infinite nuances of gray in between, and bold, syncopated forms explore literal and metaphoric dualities, which are open to interpretation and hence actively engage the viewer. Influenced by Martin Puryear, Maya Lin, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and other contemporary sculptors rooted in non-Western traditions, Sisson is of mixed race, a background that plays into her exploration of racial identity as an important concept in her art. Born to an African-American father from the Mississippi Delta and a German-American mother, Sisson grew up in Minneapolis, “scat singing Louis Armstrong songs with my father and burying seeds in the garden with my mother,” as she describes it.
The artist worked as a professional bartender for many years before earning her B.F.A. at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, followed by an M.F.A. at the University of Minnesota, which she earned in 2009 at age 52. Since then, Sisson, who teaches studio art at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass., has had an extraordinarily fruitful career. She’s had several solo exhibitions in the Twin Cities area, participated in group shows in various regions of the country, spearheaded several collaborative public art projects with her students and local youth, and lectured on encaustic and other art-related topics. She is curator of Clark University’s Schiltkamp art gallery and serves on the Mellon Advisory board of the university’s Higgins School of Humanities. “Then & Now” is Sisson’s first solo show in the Hudson Valley.