“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. After spending 20 years in Northern California, he now has returned to the U.K.
1974 Royal College of Art, London, England, MFA, Fine Art Photography
2019 2019 North American Book Signing and Exhibition - Chloe Gallery, San Francisco, CA 2017 Artist as Translator, Chloe Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2015 Hayhill Gallery, London
2009-19 Chloe Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2007 Les Metamorphoses des Fauna, Galerie Princesse de Kiev, Nice, France
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, CA 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
Southwest Airlines, Dallas, Texas
Loomis Industries, St Helena, California
Duich Investments, Mill Valley, California
Touchstone Investments, Portland, Oregon
2019 Spirit: The Art of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, Portland, OR)
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)