Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)
“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.
The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.
Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.
Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl (Gallery Books; $15.00; 318 pages)
“In the center of the cement floor sits a four-foot high pyramid of mildewy sweaters, looking like a bonfire ready to be lit, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do, because life would be so much easier if I could just burn this whole house down.”
There is a big difference between watching an hour-long TV show about compulsive hoarding and living with a close relative whose behavior has literally squeezed you out. Author Jessie Sholl is an essayist who has written a touching and engaging memoir about her relationship with her mother, a compulsive hoarder. Her childhood memories and playground embarrassments are all too real and pitiful. No, this is not a sob story or a revenge piece. It is Sholl’s declaration of acceptance of reality and acknowledgment of a fact that she has been stuffing away into dark places in her soul for way too long.
Sholl’s tale is calmly set forth in a measured voice. There are no wild moments of over-the-top drama as are shown on A&E’s Hoarders show or The Style Network’s Clean House. Nor is there a miracle cure after the trash haulers roll away from the house. Rather, the ongoing, really relentless nature of her mother’s disease forms the backdrop for the disintegration of a family.
This reviewer thinks kudos are due to Sholl for her willingness to travel from New York to Minneapolis at a time when her mom is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is daunting enough without the prospect of caring for someone in a house overrun with hoarded stuff. Between the long-term hoarding and the newly diagnosed cancer, there are more than enough challenges to be dealt with in a relatively short stay. Sholl seems to be a very gracious person. Her father and stepmother are portrayed as the saving grace in this scenario.
The background material, bibliography and discussion points round out an excellent presentation of hoarding. If someone in your life has this condition, Dirty Secret is a highly recommended read. It is a balanced blend of reality and compassion.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.