A talented, self-taught acrylic painter, Bishop has overcome a unique condition to produce stunning artwork.
The realism of artist Robert Bishop’s paintings immediately draws you into their world. You catch your breath as the gray wolves move like shadows through the trees. Take a step back after coming face to face with a powerful, tawny cougar. Gaze in wonderment at a panoramic, peach- and rose-colored sunset. Feel the silky sand between your toes on a golden beach.
Bishop’s acrylic paintings are mesmerizing worlds of substance and color. And his talent is all the more astonishing considering this fact — Bishop is color blind.
“Growing up, I didn’t realize I wasn’t seeing reds and greens,” says Bishop, 52, a part-time Leesburg resident who was born in Detroit and grew up in Windsor, Ontario. “If I commented that was a nice black car, my friends just thought I knew the car was really green and was playing a joke on them. I’d go along with them because when you’re a kid, you don’t want to be different.”
It wasn’t until he was 18 that Bishop was unofficially diagnosed with color blindness.
“My teacher was giving us this vision test where she held up cards that had black dots with colored numbers in them,” he says, “When my teacher realized what was happening, she said I must be color blind.”
As a child, Bishop loved to draw. His early teachers described him as a daydreaming doodler. But realizing he was color blind made him abandon any dreams to become an artist. After all, he reasoned, it wasn’t possible for someone who was color blind to become an artist.
Many years later while teaching special-needs children, the daydreaming doodler reappeared.
“I started drawing with the children,” says Bishop. “They loved it. That evolved into my own form of an art therapy program. When I told my supervisor that I was color blind, he said, ‘So what? Doesn’t mean you can’t be an artist.’ That’s when I started to think it might actually be possible.”
First, Bishop involved the children and they painted Christmas-themed murals on the school’s hallway walls. Then the same supervisor challenged him further.
“He wondered if I could paint a portrait of his two nephews on the beach for him,” Bishop recalls. “It wasn’t easy, probably one of the most difficult things I had ever done, but I painted that portrait for him.”
That painting led to others. Eventually, Bishop participated in his first Windsor in the Park art show and staged his first one-man gallery exhibition. When a chronic back problem forced him to give up teaching special-needs children, which can be a physically demanding profession, the next step was owning an art store. The self-taught Bishop began giving art lessons and did custom framing.
“I loved the store,” says Bishop, “but as the business evolved, I was doing more teaching and framing than painting.”
In 1991, Bishop and his wife, Patty, decided he should pursue his art career full time. That would mean traveling to art shows throughout the year, so they sold the art store, Patty left her full-time position with UPS, and they bought an RV and hit the art show circuit. After a few winters of traveling through Ontario, they started looking for a warmer locale.
“We heard about the Leesburg art show—then we fell in love with the area,” Bishop recalls. “That was 14 years ago and now it’s our second home. We do about eight shows in Florida and another 25 in Canada.”
As Bishop’s career evolved, so did his painting technique. With Patty’s help, he created a special palette organized by color tones from lightest to darkest. He also developed a method of painting by varying percentages of certain colors—a dab of color here, a dab there—to achieve the intended result.
“I can see intense red and greens,” explains Bishop, who has been married for 30 years. “The problem I have is the in-between colors of the red and green spectrum, knowing if there’s enough color or too much color. Patty is so important with helping me in this area. I couldn’t do it without her.”
Bishop pays close attention to how people react to his artwork, listening intently to their comments. He calls the feedback invaluable.
“I find it very humbling that someone is touched emotionally by my art,” he says. “Art should tell a story and speak to the heart.”
Three years ago, Howey-In-The-Hills residents Dale and Sally Robison attended the Leesburg Fine Art Festival with a mission. They came away with a very special keepsake.
“We received a brochure for the arts festival in the mail,” recalls Sally, “and the cover featured Robert Bishop’s painting of a sea turtle. Our master bathroom is decorated in a turtle theme and we thought we’d buy the print.”
The Robisons did indeed buy a limited edition print of Bishop’s “Crossing Over,” but while looking at some of his other work, Sally was drawn to his dog portraits. Longtime cocker spaniel owners, they had often thought of having a portrait done of their beloved dogs.
“Over the years, I had talked to other artists and looked at their work, but none had that something special we were looking for,” says Sally. “Robert’s did.”
Working from various photos of the Robisons’ four dogs and meeting the two that were still alive, Bishop painted the two blond and two party-colored spaniels as though they had posed hours for a formal sitting.
“We were so thrilled with the portrait,” Sally says. “The detail in the variations of the dogs’ coats to each one’s unique expression was amazing. He captured each dog’s personality perfectly.”
Bishop feels his most important goal is to “capture the spirit of that animal.” If it’s a wildlife portrait, then he spends time studying the animal’s natural habitat to tell its particular story in the painting.
He also loves to paint people, particularly children, and is expanding that part of his portfolio, including his “Children of the World” series. One of his personal favorites is “In Search of Treasure,” a painting of a friend’s three children at Daytona Beach. While her two little brothers dash into the ocean’s aquamarine waves, a barefooted young girl, the sea breeze blowing her light-brown hair every which way, searches the glimmering gold beach for treasure left behind by the tide.
“I love that painting,” says Bishop, who admits to becoming emotionally attached to his work. “Oftentimes, the most difficult part is giving a painting up. In the process of painting the piece, it comes alive and becomes part of my life.”
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Robert Bishop’s art will all over the state this month:
March 7-8: Leesburg Fine Art Festival
March 21-22: Winter Haven Central Park Art Festival
March 28-29: Downtown Sarasota Art & Craft Festival