Amy Reel and her Colossal Portraiture
As a native Hoosier, Reel grew up spending a lot of time exploring the Indiana woods until the time came for her to move away for college. After attending Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, she spent time studying painting and drawing in Rome, Italy. Then after spending a few years in the western United States, Reel made her way back to Indianapolis where she resides today.
Through her story, Reel’s formation as an artist reflects the legacy of another famous Indianapolis painter by the name of T.C. Steele. Steele, like Reel, was a native Hoosier, a true artist, and a resident of downtown Indy. He moved to Europe for a few years before returning home with a fresh perspective vying for space on his canvas. This perennial artistic formation stemming from the vast influence of context, and founded by Mr. Steele, now finds its way back to our city after a century through Amy Reel and her portraits.
“I have been making the colossal portraits for a couple of years now,” Reel said, “This show is a collection of large scale portraits, all made from an ink wash overlaid in conte on either paper or wood.” Each of Reel’s portraits shares a direct connection with The Oaks Academy in the Fall Creek Place neighborhood where she serves as the director of the arts program.
Explaining her process, Reel said, “I first choose a person to draw. I started with family that would agree to have their portrait done, and then moved to people of varied ages and races that I think have interesting faces and interesting stories. I then take pictures of them, choose a few photos to use, and begin my work.”
When Reel first started creating portraits, it was because she enjoyed the scale that the challenge presented to her, and she also noticed that during open studio nights at the Harrison Center people talked about the portraits more than any of her other work. “They were interacting with them differently,” Reel said. “People felt like they could engage with the portraits, I think because they seemed familiar… like regular people. The size of the portraits also allowed the portraits to confront the viewer instead of the viewer approaching the drawing.”
A place is made and shaped by the people who take up residence there. As a place’s residents stand, superimposing, or maybe even grafting their stories onto its surface, it comes alive. The Oaks Academy is such a place for neighbors in the Fall Creek Place community. Heavy with the hope of reconciliation in all forms and degrees, the people who make up the community of The Oaks have been immortally immobilized in Reel’s work. And now she offers her viewers a chance to enter its context through her portraits of the people who have defined it. What an opportunity.
Amy Reel’s colossal portraits hang in the City Gallery throughout the month of February.