Throughout her long career as an artist and teacher, Gisele Amantea, BFA’76, has worked in ceramics, photography, fibre and video—among other media—and produced everything from large-scale installations to a graphic novel. Her creative heart, though, belongs to flock.
Flocking is the application of fine textured nylon and rayon particles to a surface. In the 1960s and ’70s flock appeared most often as textured wallpaper, often in Italian homes like her own. As a child, her living room was adorned with red and gold flocked wallpaper. As home décor, flock represents an outdated medium of questionable aesthetic taste, but Amantea rehabilitates it into fine art to create, among other things, wall-size depictions of wrought iron gates, chain link fences and barbed wire.
Few artists work in flock, and perhaps none use the material as much as Amantea. She is drawn to flock for its tactile nature and physical intensity—“it’s so matte and dense”—and because it’s unusual. “I’m hoping people will linger with it longer. You have to pay attention to this strange material. You have to say ‘What the heck is this?’”
Amantea spent her year between high school and university working in Banff. It was 1971 and the mountain town was crawling with painters, sculptors and musicians. “Everyone in Banff was an artist,” she says. “Everyone was there being bohemian.”
Inspired by the creative people around her, Amantea decided to study art and enrolled at the University of Calgary in 1972. “What I like about the university is that it is a larger context,” she says. “You can take courses in the sciences or in English which you can’t do in the same way in art school. And you are around a lot of different people.”
Amantea returned to the University of Calgary as a sessional professor in the early 1980s after earning her MFA at the University of Puget Sound in 1979. She taught for a few years in Calgary before moving on to stints at the University of Regina and Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Since 1995 she’s taught in the Department of Studio Arts at Montreal’s Concordia University. “Teaching is an interesting way to think about art,” she says. “It is very different than just having your own internal dialogue. In many ways, you learn a lot about your own art, your own values.”
Amantea’s body of artistic work, however diverse in scale and media, explores common themes. She is interested in what people value and what they don’t, and “what gets left out and why.” Especially in domestic tableaus.
In White Folly (1988), for example, Amantea covered a wall with hundreds of unpainted ceramic objects found in craft shops—benign and banal items like kittens, cherubs, poodles and rose blossoms. That piece linked back to her own childhood and the curios her mother collected.
“I grew up in an Italian Catholic family with all of this stuff everywhere that had all this meaning imposed on it,” Amantea says. “And in art school I discovered that it was all in really bad taste.” She laughs. “I didn’t know I’d grown up with such bad taste.”