Robert Bissell’s (USA 1952) paintings explore the idea that animals have metaphysical importance to our own spiritual well-being. At first glance, Robert Bissell’s art suggests the struggles and triumphs of animals through a narrative painting style reminiscent of illustrative children’s books. But within Bissell’s work lies a more profound message. Familiar animals from our collective childhood, including bears and rabbits, are purposefully set in magical yet realistic landscapes to disarm viewers and draw us in.
Lured into a realm devoid of humans, the animal characters require us to consider our own condition and place in nature. We soon realise that the animals are actually reflections of ourselves. While whimsical at first glance, there is underlying tension and precariousness beneath the images. We begin to objectively consider ourselves and the world we live in, without familiar references.
“I want the viewer to become immersed in the scene, exploring it as if they themselves were walking through the painting and encountering the animals.”
disarms by narrating vitally grown-up and urgent allegories in the guise of child-like humor,” warns William Zimmer
art critic for The New York Times.
Bissell followed a circuitous route to painting. After a childhood on an English farm, he studied photography in London completing a Masters at The Royal College of Art, moved to California, spent a decade working for a specialty retail company, started his own catalog company, and then left it all behind in order to make art. He now lives in London and regularly exhibits in museums and galleries across the United States and Europe.
Bissell’s work is largely informed by the writings of the mythologist Joseph Campbell (American, 1904–1987), who held that myths from different cultures all share fundamental structures. Bissell’s reading of Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces initiated his own journey as artist to portray “the callings we have, the quests we undertake, difficulties we share, helping hands that appear out of nowhere (it seems), and finally the elations and conclusions we all have in common”.
Despite his careful and intricate compositions, Bissell’s paintings do not neatly fit into traditional ideas or categories in the art world. Bissell is interested in zoomorphism—imagining humans as non-humans. He intentionally explores this concept in his art, using it as an invitation to rediscover our own true nature as human beings. His message is that we are ultimately part of nature, something we may have forgotten.