Several times a year I go to Carmel, the ultimate gallery town, and graze for hours on Art, with a capital A. I study the paintings of some artists for certain techniques, others for the color palette that portrays a mood, and some, I simply fall into the painting, captivated and enchanted. Robert Bissell is one of the latter.
He paints animals, realistically yet with an anthropomorphic bent, engaged in thoughtful contemplation and enjoyment of their world. He chooses bears or rabbits for most of his paintings, because the upright stance of which they’re capable makes them more like us. Strongly influenced by the Hudson River painters, the environments in which he places his animals are both realistic and romantic, giving a depth to the paintings which enhances the illusion of reality.
His style is called “Imaginary Realism”, combining realism of imagery and surrealism of concept. His work is complex, speaking to the viewer on several levels. Something calls to the child in each of us, recalling a time when we experienced and appreciated the world directly and simply; and his work asks us to evaluate our own relationship, as humans, with the natural world. Bissell says, “The background settings are derived from Romantic era landscape painting where the intention of the artist was to idealize a view of the world in which man was in total harmony with nature. The very fact that we know this to be a false vision seemed to fit with my own intentions to elevate the animals’ importance and to disarm the viewer at the same time.”
There is a mystical element in many of his paintings that evokes a sense of wonder, awakens an awareness of the underlying unity and harmony of nature, and invites us to step forward into a more conscious way of life.
“If artists don’t start talking about contemporary problems and worldly issues, providing a moral stance, high art is going to be swallowed up by a rabid pop and corporate culture. And, at the risk of sounding elitist, I’m prepared to take a stand in this effort. If the world is going to be saved, it’s not going to be by politicians, corporations or religious fundamentalists – artists can help us understand the relationships between nature and humankind.” –Robert Bissell