Robert Bissell


(b. 1952, England)


 


                                             “Animals are good for thinking."


                                                                                      – philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss

Robert Bissell is a painter of naturalism and fantasy, combined and influenced by Romanticism. While his works touch upon wonderment, they offer a convincing view into a world without ‘civilization,’ wherein the viewer is mesmerized by the power of light and the essence of natural law – yet tinged by fancy. This genre of art is sometimes called Magical Realism. 


Early tribal cultures believed the natural world to be the bridge connecting earth and spirit. Animals were regarded as powerful spiritual beings that could connect humans to unseen realms, the environment, and each other. Along these lines, Robert Bissell creates works that transport us into a completely different atmosphere than that of modern daily life, inviting us to learn more about ourselves and to contemplate our origins in the natural world.


In his animal paintings, the world of animals is a mirror for human existence, self-definition, and self-reflection. Yet, these aren’t mere children's tales. "Bissell's work disarms by narrating vitally grown-up and urgent allegories in the guise of child-like humor," counters William Zimmer, art critic for The New York Times


Bissell's paintings explore the idea that animals have metaphysical importance to our own spiritual well-being. Lured into a realm absent of humans, Bissell’s animal characters ask that we consider our own condition and place in nature. While whimsical at first glance, there is underlying tension and precariousness beneath the images. Disarmed, we objectively consider ourselves without familiar references. 


"His animal work is full of charged meaning and lore, and it’s touched by surrealism", says Suzanne Bellah, Director of the Carnegie Art Museum. “Influenced by the surreal legacy of Magritte, he mixes scales and uses gigantism with a variety of textures and subtle color palettes.” Indeed, Bissell keys his palette to the great landscape masters of European art Claude Lorrain and Corot (France) and Thomas Gainsborough (England).


These paintings are reflections on the environment, life, death, renewal, and stages of spiritual transition. Departing from the safety of ‘home,’ we make our way back into a primitive, natural world.  Conjuring up something simultaneously real and unreal, Bissell’s work appeals to the intellectual child in all of us – curious and ready for outdoor adventure! 


Bissell’s are not romantic landscapes in the traditional sense because they choose not to celebrate the lone, human hero in nature. Nonetheless, we are treated to Romanticism’s experience of the sublime. More so, the works partake of Magical Realism in that they are ‘readable’ to the eye as realistic, yet undergirded by mystical spiritualism.


Bissell grew up in Somerset, England and retains a love of Celtic legends, rural life, and panoramic landscapes. His interest in visual art began with photography. After studying it, and obtaining a Master’s Degree from The Royal College of Art in London, Robert moved to San Francisco and began a successful career in creative directing. After 15 years, he decided to devote all his time to painting. He currently lives in Northern California.


 


EDUCATION


1974     Royal College of Art, London, England, MFA, Fine Art Photography


1974     Manchester College of Art, BFA, Photography


1970     Somerset School of Art, England, painting


1959     Queen’s College, Taunton, Somerset, England, painting


 


SOLO EXHIBITIONS


2012-13 Chloe Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA


2001      Plaza Gallery, Bank of America, San Francisco


              Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts, Gwinnett Center, Atlanta, GA


2000      Mountain View Arts Commission, CA


              Cultural Conservancy Center/Presidio Alliance, San Francisco


              Parkersburg Art Center, WV


1999      Albion College, MI


              Saginaw Museum, MI


              Erie Art Museum, PA


              Beauty in the Beast, Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA


1998      Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX


              Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, CA


              Museum of the Southwest, Midland, TX


              Chico Art Center, CA


              Littman Gallery, Portland State University, OR


              Lane College, Eugene, OR 


              Rogue Community College, Grants Pass, OR


1997      Buckley Gallery, University of Portland, OR



GROUP EXHIBITIONS


2013       Chloe Gallery, San Francisco, CA


2012       Rarity Gallery, Summer Salon Show, Mykonos, Greece


2009-12  Chloe Gallery, San Francisco, CA


2007       Les Metamorphoses des Fauna, Galerie Princesse de Kiev, Nice, France


2000       Open Studios, Headlands Center for the Arts, Marin, CA


1999       Open Studios, Headlands Center for the Arts


1999       Beauty in the Beast, Maryhill Museum of Art, WA


 


COLLECTIONS


Southwest Airlines, Dallas, Texas


Loomis Industries, St Helena, California


Duich Investments, Mill Valley, California


Touchstone Investments, Portland, Oregon


 


PUBLICATIONS


2013      Hero, The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, Portland, OR)


2012      Arabella: Canadian Art, Architecture and Design, “Artist to Collect: Robert Bissell” –    Debra Usher
              (Fall Harvest: New Brunswick, Canada)


2011     Imaginaire lV, Contemporary Magic Realism (Brusen, Saeby, Denmark)


2010     Imaginaire ll, Contemporary Magic Realism (ibid)


2007     Dreamscape 2, The Best of Imaginary Realism (Salbru, Amsterdam, Netherlands)


2006     Popular Contemporary Writers – Michael D. Sharp (Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY)


2004     Southwest Art Magazine, “Robert Bissell: Down the Rabbit Hole” (June)


2003     Southwest Art Magazine, “Artists to Watch: Robert Bissell” (June)


             Un jour à la ferme – Pierre Coran (La Renaissance du Livre, Tournai, Belgium)


2002     Le jardin des peintres – Pierre Coran (ibid)


2001     Flora: Gardens & Plants in Art & Literature – Edward Lucie-Smith (Watson-Guptill, NY)


2000     Dog: A Dog’s Life in Art and Literature – Iain Zaczek (ibid)


1999     Cat! Wild Cats and Pampered Pets – Andrew Edney (op cit.)


1999     Featured Artist: Commute Options Week, Bend, OR


1998     Portland Living Magazine, “The Next Beatrice Potter?” – Michael Russell (April/May)


1997     New American Paintings: Juried Exhibitions in Print (Open Studios, Boston, MA)


1997     The Dream Road, paintings by Robert Bissell with short stories (Dreamroads, OR)


1977     British Journal of Photography Annual (H. Greenwood, London, England)


 


AWARDS


1999     E.D. Foundation Grant, Headlands Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA


1999     Affiliate Artist, Headlands Center for the Arts, San Francisco


1976     Daily Telegraph (London, England) “Sunday Magazine Award”


 


CAREER


1992    Founder and Creative Director, The Good Catalogue Company


1981    Creative Director and Photographer, Sharper Image Corporation