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Phillip Bissell

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It’s fair to say that London’s phalanx of cityscapes figure prominently in contemporary artist, Phillip Bissell’s portfolio of visually studious works, although Venice also get the occasional look in. But then there’s his figurative and abstract work to consider as well, which Bissell’s also been busying himself with for the best part of his painting career to date. Born in Birmingham in 1952, yet residing in the relative peace and quiet of Norfolk for the past 30 years, Bissell bills himself as something of a visual poet or pictorial storyteller and considers that the painted image is indeed a magical place, and a location where imagination is afforded the life it craves. And it’s hard to argue with this prosaic statement of creative intent on looking at Bissell’s body of work, which candidly foretell a still unfolding visual script where the artist is clearly attempting to merge his own inner world with that of ours as a collective of individuals.

Bissell sees his compositions as a crossroads where experiences meet and prosper. He takes moods and places them at the centre of his pieces, whether those studies construct around landscapes, figures or an abstract form. Bissell envisages that colours evoke moods and feelings and sets out to flag up the importance of this in his images past, present and future. Whether or not his studies are solely figure or landscape based, or a combination of both factors, each landscape Bissell understands to be a set. A stage on which his players will shortly assemble for an as yet un-named performance; thus why narratives have always been seen as crucial to Bissel, as much in a figureless composition as a populated one.

With direct reference to Bissell’s self-exclaimed ‘unresolved scenes’ he implores the viewer to bring with them their very own experiences to both complete his approximation and extend its visual parameters way beyond the extents of its frame. Bissell suggests that his pieces are most concerned with fragments of time, which is why they seemingly pose questions such as; What has happened? What is happening? What is likely to happen next? Bissell goes on to explain that Marcel Proust, the famed French writer dedicated his lifetime to the study of his concept of involuntary memory, and those occasions when visual stimulus trigger a deep-seated emotional response mechanism that in themselves unlock a raft of supposed pre-lived experiences, or that feeling of déjà vu to the uninitiated. With this theory and school of applied thought in mind, Bissell invites viewers of his finest painted hours and days to facilitate them as an emotional compass, to attempt to recollect a specific event in their particular timeline. But more than this, perhaps that composition tells your story. Restores your visual memory.

If all this sounds a bit heavy, then instead why not discover who Bissell is, rather than ourselves. Painting for as long as he cares to remember (ironic when reading the above), Bissell has traded in a host of different styles. Brought up in the West Midlands, a young, impressionable Bissell was always encouraged by his parents to immerse himself in creativity and the arts. One such creative outlet was the classical music concerts staged with regularity at Birmingham Town Hall during his formative years, where Bissell positively lapped up the sounds of Elgar and Stravinsky among others of composing note. He’d also go to the cinema every week as a film fanatic, and as a youngster recalls his love of witnessing ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on the big screen; which he viewed countless times on account of his fascination with the sweeping landscapes documented by celluloid. Escapism appears to be the word Bissell struggles to find when discussing his passion for film and describing the Antarctic, the jungles of Burma, Russia’s frozen wastelands, the dusty American Mid-West and other such far flung destinations captured on film during his upbringing. Colours used by the directors, the positioning of key elements and props all inspired Bissell whether consciously or subconsciously and gave him his taste for replicating this, albeit in a more conservative 2D environ. Genuinely captivated by landscapes near and far, Bissell one year in later life travelled the length of Britain purely to take in the ever-changing landscapes that greeted his transient journeying. From Dorset to Scotland and on to Switzerland, Bissell is drawn back and forth to many destinations that have all furnished his artistic mind with images and vistas that he can and has drawn upon when conveying his own works.

Bissell cites Picasso as an influence on his creative life and works, someone whom he discovered as an adolescent with this ravishing appetite to learn and someone he’s referred to ever since when approaching and addressing his own studies. Paraphrasing Picasso, Bissell refers to the importance of being consistent; yet remembering that familiarity nearly always breeds contempt at the same time, so the need to vigilantly alternate individual creative output must always be uppermost in an artist’s mind to maintain a creative energy and self-perpetuating dynamic.There’s no doubting that Bissell continues to be motivated by his next piece as he explains how he still loves the feel of his brushes on introduction to his canvasses.

Whilst on the subject of mediums, Bissell favours acrylics purely for their drying time, yet he also practises in oils on a regular basis too. Mixed media also has a growing role to play in Bissell’s contemporary work, especially when he’s developing his more abstract pieces where he strives to build on his layers with structure gel, pearlescent paint and even glitter and gold leaf when the mood takes him. But this is because Bissell fervently believes that art is about fun as much as experimentation and insists that art should never be taken too seriously and risk becoming po-faced and pretentious.