Dreamroads Editions

An Interview with Robert Bissell - The Landscapes

You have said you don't like to talk in detail about your paintings. Why is this?

Matisse's point of view was something like this... the only valid thing in a painting is the thing that cannot be explained - the mystery of it - and to explain it is to substitute the definition for the image. I think there is a lot of truth in that. However, I do want my work to be accessible to as many people as possible so I enjoy talking about the work in a more general way.

Many people know you by your animal work. These landscapes seem like a serious departure. Have you moved on from the animal work?

My interest in landscape grew out of a love of looking out of my bedroom window when I was a child. The view was of an expanse of ocean in the west of England. I was always drawn to the horizon, sometimes clear, sometimes blurry but either way it was always an unknown and mysterious edge that captivated me. As a photographer in graduate school, my subject was mostly landscape. In the animal paintings, the landscape the animals are situated in, is integral to the stories I am telling. So the answer is, I think, that the landscape image has always been prominent in my mind and in my art.

Your landscapes have a meditative quality. Is this intentional? Have you joined the Zen landscape movement?

I understand Zen-like landscapes have become popular in the last few years, though I'm not sure how this is manifesting. Personally, I do find landscape and nature a good place for contemplation and mystery. Sometimes certain places or parts of the landscape come together in a kind of holistic aesthetic that creates a beginning for contemplation or meditation.

What is the nature of the connection you try to create between viewer and painting?

Connecting my meditative experience in the landscape to executing a painting of the place or situation is a process of unpacking all the elements in the image and putting them back together on the canvas. And doing so in a way that allows the viewer to more readily access their own meditative experience according to their own sensibility. In this regard, I try to provide a beginning point for the viewer's own experience.

The description of your process seems to suggest more than just an intuitively creative transference of an idea. Is there some science involved here?

Any painting is about relationship of the elements and how they are composed in the frame. I tend to observe the landscape in much the same way. I am looking for relationships that come together and create a balance where all the elements before me are arranged in such a way that suggests a sublime quality, not just of the place but in my mind as the viewer. This is the connection I am after. The challenge is to compose and rearrange the elements on the canvas to retain the harmony I experienced. This requires a degree of study and examination, with camera and measurements, to be successful.

Your animal prints have always been limited edition offerings, historically best presented and purchased by galleries. But your landscapes, while signed and numbered, are unlimited. Why the change in approach? Are you moving away from galleries?

The animal paintings are extremely time consuming to execute, expensive to purchase and sell very quickly. By creating smaller size, limited edition prints we were able to make the images available to a different audience within the gallery system. Landscapes are best when shown large and I wanted to have these images be available and more affordable to a different audience that is not necessarily looking for art in bricks and mortar galleries.

Why did you decide to paint?

Fifteen years in advertising will drive you to do all kinds of crazy things. The truth is I felt I had something important to say, something others could benefit from and enjoy. Also, much as I enjoyed viewing contemporary art, it did very little for me. Most of it just seemed so introspective and wrapped up in formal concerns that meant nothing to most people, except the critics who seemed to be directing it. The whole scene seemed driven by fashion and much of it was intellectually lazy. Frankly, this pissed me off. And I didn't want to stay quiet any longer. I was fortunate enough, over the years, to save some money to turn my thoughts into paintings, full time. I had trained in photography so I had to teach myself to paint. Now after about ten years I'm beginning to understand what can be done.

Which artists do you admire or respond to?

Caspar David Friedrich for his depth of vision. Magritte - what a mind! Anselm Kiefer is, in my opinion, the greatest living artist today. He transcends everyone else. And artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Nicola Hicks for their work with nature.

What makes your landscape paintings successful for you?

If I can stop someone, even for a second or two - take them out of themselves to a place of different awareness, somewhere quiet and beautiful.