Earl Biss

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Earl Biss



Earl Biss was born Sept. 29, 1947, in Renton, Washington, and was taken six days later to the Crow nation in Montana, where he was raised by grandmother.  He was a descendant of Chief White Man Runs Him, who was contracted by the U.S. Government to track the Sioux for Gen. George Custer.  The Sioux were enemies of the Crow, so his task was considered a great honor.  When Biss was 8, he was taken out of school after coming down with rheumatic fever.  His father later enrolled him in his first oil-painting classes.

After a fine classical education in the arts, a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and several years at the San Francisco Art Institute, Biss continued with a year of independent study in Europe.  He maintained a studio in the countryside of the Netherlands, haunting the museums in his spare time.  After a month of absorbing as much as possible of the French museums, he traveled south to Greece, where he settled for six months on the Isle of Corfu where he painted until returning to the United States.  He was a student of American Indian artists Alan Houser and Charles Loloma and a contemporary of T.C. Cannon,  Kevin Red Star and Doug Hyde.


“I believe my work was most influenced by the works of the European masters, the violent, translucent skies of Turner, the impressionistic brush work of Monet, illusive suggestiveness of Whistler landscapes.  I also have great admiration for the stark emotional statements of Edward Munch and Kokoschka.  I believe my work projects these admirations with obvious awareness of freedom of Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, and the action painters of the late fifties.

“I have always been most concerned with the quality of a painting as opposed to the statement.  I consider myself an oil painter and am obsessed with stretching the medium to every limit I can find.  I have painted in oils since age 12.  Diligently working hours on end in the studio, I have become so at ease with my chosen medium that at times the fluid spontaneity with which I work happens almost automatically.  I have no recognition of what others may call accident.  I often utilize unorthodox effects to cause visual excitement.  In my mind there are no limitations to the manner in which paint may be applied to the canvas.  After finding an interesting effect and using it over and over again this effect may become a tool.

“At times I challenge my own knowledge of the ways of paint.  I cause problems for myself that may keep me stumped for months.  I very seldom sketch out a premeditated work.  I feel my greatest pieces have come spontaneously – frantically pushing paint, color and texture around on a clean surface – juggling the canvas, turning sideways and upside down, letting gravity move the paint, often splashing solvents on the surface, rubbing with a rag bach to the white surface.  It’s not unusual for a painting to change several times before completion.  Some works that have stagnated and resisted my conclusions have found a corner of the studio to wait, at times months, until I have come to the answer.  Some have been worked and re-worked till their texture is gnarly and an inch or so thick”

“I have worked on as many as thirty canvases at a time.  I rarely work on one piece from start to finish.  Working on several pieces at once gives me the freedom to rest from an immediate problem and release that tension that otherwise might force what should be a natural growth process.  I give each piece credit for having a life of its own that with nurturing and patience will give me direction which will bring it to finality”

“My greatest excitement is in the act of painting.  Once I have concluded that a piece is finished, I can usually discard it from my mind and continue on to another surface very much like one would work through a sketch book.  I particularly enjoy working on large paintings.  The manner in which I work is fast and vigorous.  Large canvases allow me the freedom to wield a brush with great sweeps.  The action caught on the surface is directly a result of the action with which the stroke was made.  Small canvases are the most difficult to execute.  Contained in a small area, much of the otherwise spontaneous action is inhibited.  In my entire painting career I doubt if I have painted more than a half a dozen paintings out of doors from life.  I have several times used photographs for reference nod almost exclusively paint entirely from memory, imagination.  More than anything I prefer to allow the paint happening on the canvas to lead me to the imagery”

“I draw my current subject mater from the rich cultural background of my people, The Crow Nation of the northern plains.  Once a nomadic people roaming the plains freely, people with spirituality built upon a oneness with the earth and elements.  A lore emersed natural powers, the ability to conjure direction from the Gods which are one with every being whether it be live or inanimate:

“As a painter I am first concurred with the medium, the cause and effect, the actual application of paint and the way colors interact to stir the mood of the observer.  Contorting design elements for my amusement – sometimes out of boredom with repetition, I have at times sought to make personal statements.  These rare canvases have a closeness to my inner opinion and have in their nature often a vile or unsettling way that I would not subject an audience to their presence.  Given the choice what to say through my work to a captive audience I choose to portray calm, alluring scenes, void of the anguish that annoys the serenity I feel we all would much rather have.  The world that I would have us all live in and experience in a world that perhaps only the imagination will allow us.   In my own way I have devised through my art work an escape mechanism that I admittedly use to relieve myself from the desperation of day to day reality.  Most people I encounter have the desire to be removed from the pressures and anxieties of today.  I like to think of my painting as windows to another time and place – a magical window through which one’s mind may drift: a place that is good and right.  I feel that too many of us have lost touch with the beautiful world that is around us.  If I can share with people a dream that is pleasant, I feel that I have fulfilled a responsibility that I must share with my fellow man.”

“At an early age I made the commitment to dedicate my life to being an artist.  My vision has become as tunnel vision – focusing on oil painting as the prime motion for living.  I like to create planes of texture and space configurations of brushwork that lend themselves to participation in the viewer’s eye and mind in such a way that suggestion more than illustration creates the scene.  I have often been delighted others’ observations of images I had not seen in a piece.”

“Though my work is basically spontaneous in nature and conceived directly onto the canvas, I do constant research.  I take long trips into the mountains.  I wander hundreds of miles exploring back roads through the Rockies and across the plains taking mental notes to be drawn upon later in the solitude of my studio.  I like to spend time at polo matches, horse races or when possible go for long rides out in the wilderness.  I have found that by being in this area with the surrounding mountains, harsh weather, and changing skies have had a definite influence on my recent work.”