As a child growing up on a farm in the English countryside, Robert Bissell immersed himself in the world of animals—the sheep, pigs, and chickens of the family farm, and the owls, rabbits, and wild red deer of the countryside. Add to his upbringing a liberal dose of literature, from The Tales of Peter Rabbit
to Watership Down
, and the result is Bissell’s merry mixture of imaginary realism.
Taking a cue from the Romantic period, Bissell invokes a sense of peace and harmony in his paintings with the use of soft light and contemplative animal figures in idyllic landscapes. In The Embrace
, bears stand upright, looking skyward, surrounded by swirling blue butterflies.
The Exiles, 2007
The North Light (detail), 2010
Yet Bissell doesn’t anthropomorphize animals. Rather, he zoomorphizes people, telling the story of the human condition through animals. His creatures often look us in the eye and invite us to step into their world to see ourselves, once again, as part of nature.
“Guardians and guides of the natural world,” Bissell says, “animals challenge us to consider our place and role in a higher order.”
“Animals used to be involved with humans as messengers with magical functions,” he says
. “I wanted to restore their role and give them a new voice.”
And while the child in us may be delighted with the bears and bunnies, a sense of danger, perhaps a storm brewing, pervades many of Bissell’s works. His creatures have a depth of character not found in most children’s illustration.
Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell
(Pomegranate, 2013) follows mythologist Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey. In Orion
(January-February 2014), Scott Gast makes note of Bissell’s recurring use of bears, rabbits, frogs, and elephants looking skyward “in contemplation of some great mystery beyond the page. It’s the articulation of that mystery that seems to be Bissell’s primary concern as an artist.”
“I try to transmit a feeling of oneness and unity in a painting,” Bissell says
. “To me it is critical my work promotes an integral understanding of our world, helps raise consciousness, and transforms people’s lives.”
After studying photography at the Manchester College of Art and completing a postgraduate course in fine art photography at the Royal College of Art in London, Bissell left England to work as a photographer on a cruise ship, eventually settling in San Francisco where he built a successful career in advertising. He then started his own catalog company in Portland, Oregon, but gave it up and taught himself to paint.
Bissell keeps in touch on Facebook
. More about the artist can be found on his website
Voyagers (detail), 2014
The Guru, 2009