German painter and draughtsman. He registered at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts in 1914 but remained there for only a few months, preferring to work alone. In 1927 he met the sinologist Ernst Grosse, who in introducing him to ancient Chinese thought enabled him to familiarize himself with a form of art completely outside the European tradition. Among the few surviving works of this period are Zurich Landing Stage (1927) and Self-portrait (1928; both Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen). In 1930 he began to make ink paintings, in the same year meeting in Paris with Constantin Brancusi, who taught him that art was rooted in meditation. Bissier then began to question the abstract painting he practised at the time, to such an extent that when a fire destroyed almost all his works in 1934 he started again from scratch and began to paint in a style influenced by Chinese monochrome ink paintings. From then on he concentrated on the technique of wash drawing in black India ink. Strongly influenced by Taoism, he combined spontaneity and mastery in a single gesture, as in Masculine–Feminine Unity Symbol (1934; Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen). He lived quietly at Hagnau on Lake Constance, working in isolation, and did not exhibit his pictures under the Nazi regime. The monochrome ink paintings he executed throughout this period, such as Penetration (1939; Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen), were seen by the public only after World War II, making his reputation. From 1950 he took part in many major international exhibitions, including Documenta in Kassel (1959) and the Venice Biennale in 1960. While continuing to work on paper, he also began to paint on panel from 1953 (all destr.) and from 1956 on canvas. In these paintings, such as 30 July 1959 (1959; Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen), he developed a technique of egg-and-oil tempera that allowed him to use several washes on the canvas while retaining coloured contours to define his forms. He called these small pictures ‘miniatures’, but they might also be referred to as microcosms, because of the wealth of their symbolism. During the 1950s, Bissier left Germany for Ascona in Switzerland, where he continued to lead a quiet life in conditions favourable to the meditation on which his painting depended. Like Mark Tobey, he was one of the first modern western painters to have sought inspiration from the art of the Far East.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press