Robert Bissell’s paintings could have been lifted from the pages of a children’s well-loved story book, but closer inspection reveals a far deeper meaning. Like animals from Aesop’s fables or Watership Down, the timeless philosophy of each subject leads us into powerful childhood memories- and the innocence of who we really are. His creatures challenge our forgotten sense of play with disarmingly Narnian wisdom; we find that the fairytale symbolism still resonates with an adult spirit.
Bissell is the master of altering perspectives: one minute we are peering down on a softly whimsical scene of bears and butterflies; the next we are dwarfed by a giant rodent (with every single one of his ratty hairs glistening in high definition). Some characters are too big for their worlds; others nearly lost in the sprawling landscape. Bissell’s animals in some way hold up a mirror to our own triumphs and failings- unmasking our callings, journeys and secret desires. Although the artist’s technique is remarkably realistic, his creatures appear surreal- as though clones of each other. There is not a group of wolves, only one universal wolf repeated across the canvas. In this way, the works have the golden enchantment of a dream, provoking an out-of-body experience for the viewer.
In ancient mythology, animals carried their own symbolism, existing as omens for interpretation. A fox slinking in the shadows is a glimpse into the supernatural; a horse galloping across the field is a promise of strength and freedom. In the attempt to make sense of human existence, we are looking for moral authority- and find it in living breathing furry metaphors. Unable to fully detach, we will see certain human traits in animals long before we recognise them in ourselves. At one with their environments- and at peace with themselves- the animals reveal things hidden from human eyes. They continue to teach us about the possibility of less cluttered lives, allowing earth to connect with an uninhibited spirit.