Faculty Biography

Toby Sisson

Toby Sisson, M.F.A.

Associate Professor of Studio Art
Department of Visual and Performing Art
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Phone: 508.793.7301
Email: tsisson@clarku.edu

Professional Website

Toby Sisson earned her B.F.A, Magna Cum Laude, from the College of Visual Arts in Saint Paul, Minnesota and her M.F.A. from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her areas of specialization include drawing, painting and printmaking, as well as community-based research and service learning.

Creative Research and Teaching Interests

Sisson is an abstract artist whose individual studio practice encompasses mixed media, oil and encaustic. Her visual studies range from the creation of land based art forms, to the hybridization of indigenous and immigrant artistic traditions, the exploration of contemporary issues surrounding race and ethnicity, as well as the innovative use of ancient and organic materials. Her work is in numerous public and private collections and she has exhibited internationally, including the Teda Contemporary Art Museum, Tianjin, China; The Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, New Jersey; and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

"Fundamentally, I believe that art is a quest for understanding about how the world works, rather than perpetuating the norm of right and wrong, or mere decoration." This philosophy guides Toby Sisson as an artist and educator. She actively seeks opportunities to join art and everyday life, creating holistic experiences for individuals and their surrounding communities to become fully engaged with one another.

Sisson's courses include Drawing and Painting (beginning and advanced levels in various media), Studio Topics (the capstone course for art majors), and Senior Thesis (A senior seminar in preparation for the senior thesis exhibition in Clark University’s Schiltkamp Gallery). Since joining Clark University in 2009, she has been the recipient of the Hodgkins Award (2011) for meritorious contributions in creative practice, teaching and service, as well as the Hayden Faculty Fellowship (2015) for deep and sustained engagement with the Clark community. She has been nominated for an Outstanding Teacher of the Year award by Clark University students three times (2014, 2019 and 2020).   

Recent Exhibitions

Rhode Island College’s Banister Gallery, named in honor of Edward Mitchell Banister, a noted 19th century African American artist and founding member of the Providence Art Club, featured Sisson’s drawings, painting and prints in a 2017 solo exhibition titled, The Soul of All Color. Writing about the show, Kimberly Juanita Brown, author of The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary, Duke University Press, 2015, asserts, “Abstraction assists the imagination by requiring something more of the viewer. In this, Sisson creates with and against the grain of the viewer’s expectation. Her art is figurative without figures, precise while playfully amorphous, lyrical and performative.”

As the first woman and person of color to be recognized with a solo exhibition in the Worcester Art Museum’s Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative in 2018, the museum’s curator wrote of her work, “Toby Sisson’s encaustic monotypes unite her personal experience with broader issues pertaining to race. In American | naciremA 1, a single word—American—is inscribed repeatedly as Sisson explores the relationship between a word and its various meanings. In her recent works, Sisson employs text in reference to black writers who have engaged with issues of race and the struggle for equality. Yet Sisson recognizes language as a social construction, laden with arbitrary meaning. To this end, she emphasizes this ambiguity by nestling text among other abstracted forms.”

In 2019, Sisson had a solo exhibition of encaustic monotype prints titled Nacirema (the inverse of American) at the List Art Center of Brown University. The gallery noted, “Toby Sisson uses the idiom of non-objective abstraction to reflect on her personal experience as a multiracial American. [She] recognizes the binary reality that W.E.B. DuBois termed ‘double-consciousness’:—a constant awareness of ‘twoness.’ Past works with titles like One Drop Rule and Black Tears (created in 2015 in response to continuing violence against young, unarmed, black men), have led to Nacirema.