Red wine and power tools
Artist Amy Schissel reveals the ingredients for a perfect day, and what Princess Leia and Cyndi Lauper have in common
1. What was on your bedroom walls when you were a kid?
My mom was a macrame … I hate to use the word freak, so let’s use macrame artist. She and her friends used to macrame a lot. My brother and I shared a room when we were kids — we’re the same age — so we had these big, huge green macrame frogs and owls on our walls. We also had some Star Wars posters. 2. If you weren’t a visual artist, what do you think your creative outlet would be?
Before I was an artist, I was actually going to university for tenor saxophone, at Carleton University, so I think I’d be a jazz musician. 3. Who was your girlhood idol?
That’s a toss-up between Princess Leia and Cyndi Lauper. I was Cyndi Lauper twice at Halloween, and Princess Leia three times. They were my idols. What was it about them?
With Princess Leia it was the buns. And Cyndi Lauper, I used to like her miniskirts and I used to dress like that as a kid. 4. What makes you squirm?
Maggots, absolutely. I had been a server for about seven years on and off throughout university, and there was this garbage strike in Ottawa. My job was to take the garbage from the curb, that the garbagemen didn’t pick up, and bring it back into the restaurant so we could store it until the strike was over. It was crawling with maggots, and the bag burst and they were all over me, all over my shoes, in my shoes. I threw up. It was disgusting. 5. What three words describe how you feel when you paint?
I don’t know if I feel an emotion. It’s more a sense of focus, or a transient feeling of having one foot on the earth and one foot within the realm of the imaginative world. So I’d say transient, focused and sort of a peaceful feeling. 6. If you could have 100 pounds of anything, what would you choose and why?
I did some research for this one. At first it was going to be gold, but then I thought, “ There’s got to be something more expensive than gold.” So then it was anti-hydrogen. For an ounce of anti-hydrogen, you would get two-thousand trillion dollars. So I’d go for that, because then I could use the money for world peace. 7. If you could go back and re-live any one day of your life, which would you choose and why?
I don’t have one significant day that stands out, but I really like spending time with my family — my brothers and sisters. So any time I’m with them — holidays. Yesterday was a pretty good day. I spent the day with my dad. We built the frames and the stretchers for the canvasses that are going in the show. We drank wine and used power tools … it was a good day. 8. What two people, living or dead, would you like to have as seatmates on an extremely long train trip?
The artist Eva Hesse, for one. She died at the age of 33. She was a very prominent figure in feminism. She was a sculptor and was very interested in the absurdity in everything. She kept a journal, but there hasn’t been a lot published about what she kept in her journal, so I’d like to pick her brain on that.
Another person who really interests me is Anne Frank. As a kid I read The Diary of Anne Frank about four times. I think she’s really inspiring, and I’d like to ask her questions about how you get through living in an attic for two years. I think she has a great human spirit, so I would like to talk to her for a long time. 9. If you could spend a day inside the story or setting of any painting, song, movie or book, what would you choose and why?
Star Wars. I want to wear the buns, I want to have a light sabre and I want to learn to move things with my hands. You can’t move things with your hands?
You know — with my Jedi powers. 10. What do you wish you could get into the habit of doing?
I wish I could get into the habit of being organized. I’m extremely spontaneous — I think too spontaneous. I don’t really have a set schedule; I just do things as they happen or as they come about. I think I would really like to be more organized. I would like to get into the habit of waking up and scheduling my day. 11. What have you never done that you’d like to try some day?
The rodeo. I grew up on a farm in Alberta, and my dad every year would go in the Calgary Stampede. I was six months to the age where I could start to compete at the Calgary Stampede or join the 4-H club, and we moved because my dad wanted to go to school. 12. What useless skill(s) do you possess?
I can do the splits. Do you use that much these days?
No, but I can do it. I practised from when I was seven until I could do it, and I can still do it for some reason, although I have not much flexibility any other way. 13. What do you think your friends would say is your most annoying trait?
I’m a biter. I get really excited and sometimes I’ll bite somebody. I seriously bite people, and then they get really mad. Like you’ll just grab a friend’s arm and bite it?
Yeah, yeah. Friends, though. People that I’m close to. Wow. I might include that in useless skills. 14. What is the oddest thing you’ve heard someone say about your work?
I think it’s pretty odd that apparently my work looks like a futuristic Pac-Man game. Who said that?
A student I was TA-ing in my master’s program. 15. What is your guilty pleasure?
Oreos. I like licking the centres. 16. What upsets you more than it should?
I’m a bicyclist. I bicycle everywhere, and what upsets me every time is drivers who are not considerate of those who prefer to bike. I get splashed, I’ve been hit with car doors. People don’t really watch where they’re going a lot of the time. Every time I see that happening, I get really angry, even if it’s not happening to me. 17. What three songs should everyone have on their iPods?
Any song by Neil Young. Pick one.
I like The Needle and the Damage Done. And Madonna’s Material Girl, and Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. 18. What emotion(s) do you want your art to elicit from viewers?
I would like it to elicit a de-centredness, for one. I think some of the work is fun, so a feeling of, not childishness, but a feeling of joy, maybe. On the flip side, a serious, almost existentialist questioning feeling. 19. What are the three greatest places you’ve been to?
Absolutely the first one is Visby, Sweden. I just did a summer residency there. It’s an old Hanseatic town, a 12th-century town, and the castle walls are still intact, and are around this village that was built in the 1200s. It’s a whole other world — it’s completely medieval.
Second, a friend of mine lives in Italy, on a family vineyard in Piedmont. I went to visit there and lived in a castle that overlooks rolling hills of vineyards. It was beautiful.
And the third place is probably my bedroom. It’s where I spend most of my time, I think. 20. Who or what will be the death of you, and what would you like your headstone to read?
I eat a lot of salmon, so I think I’ll die of mercury poisoning. Or something related to my liver. The liver one would be alcoholrelated?
I’m not saying that. That could be left up to the imagination. And I think my headstone would read … “She drank too much”?
No. Something like “Right on.”
Artist Amy Schissel perches in front of one of her canvases, this one entitled ‘Red’ from the RGB series at the Cube Gallery in Ottawa. Works by Schissel, as well as those of Russell Yuristy, will be on exhibit at Cube Gallery, 1285 Wellington St. W.,...