Working in a romanticized industry known for rebelling against the status-quo, it’s only natural for an artist to not only make an enemy of money, but of the whole “system” industry itself – from the dealers to the market, the collectors to the auction house, and everything in between. Artists must have a passion and love what they do so strongly that it eclipses the potential risk of never having these financial gains, completely dedicating themselves to a craft that might never see the light of day or public recognition. As such, the distaste for these systematic constructs is not just natural, but a source of self-preservation.
Sometimes blessings come out of the most disastrous circumstances; for artist and buried treasure aficionado JR Bissell, the craftsman was born with an umbilical cord around his neck that resulted in a near-death birth at the start of his life. Bissell attributes his troubled entry into the world not only to him being left-handed (in line with studies about the correlation between left-handed people and traumatic births), but also what he attributes to what he calls his biggest blessing: access to both his left and right brain. Having a father in big business who started the 5th largest private mortgage company in the United States, Bissell’s childhood was packed with business discussions with his father. His patriarch, however, always recognized how Bissell would draw everything he saw and registered as cool, spending hours every day until late at night drawing the things that interested him like cars and sharks. When college came around for Bissell, finance was already becoming a less attractive degree compared to marketing anyway; his father recognized marketers ruled the world and that Bissell could combine business with creativity in this degree as opposed to attending an art college.
After getting his degree in marketing, Bissell started running a business in the world of collectibles. While it began in paper money when he first entered the scene with Currency Grading & Certification, Bissell quickly moved into pirate-era shipwreck gold because of his childhood passion for Pirate Treasure, founding Pirate Gold Coins in the process. While spending the last decade growing and managing tens of millions of dollars in rare collectibles listed on eBay and many other platforms, ranging from pirate treasure to dinosaur fossils, Bissell has fostered an in depth knowledge of the inner workings of collectibles – what the market needs, what the collectors look for and the factors that make a collectible appreciate over time. The ability to combine this in-depth knowledge of the collectible’s markets and his lifetime experience of art has the potential to make Bissell one of the biggest players in the art market in a decade or two. Instead of making an enemy of these systemic financial factors like most artists, Bissell luckily has a brain that can do both. Working lengthy hours from 7am-11pm everyday, Bissell manages tens of millions in collectibles on his sites and works consistently on his art daily.
“I am constantly watching documentaries on all the most famous artists, if a documentary about business isn’t already on,” revealed Bissell. “The only artist I really have seen that’s had a similar upbringing to me is Jeff Koons, a previous wall street guy who turned into an artist. He seemed to know all the similar concepts I knew before going into art, although his background in stocks wasn’t quite as correlated as already being in collectibles like me.” Bissell has innovatively combined these two worlds of rare collectibles and art in what might be the first artist who truly attempts to encapsulate the historic significance and beauty of these rare artifacts in his art work. A rendition of Picasso, Basquiat, or Dali with Treasures from the 1715 Fleet Shipwreck seamlessly integrated, learning and paying tribute to the grand masters – while also doing his own original pieces as well. “When I’m doing a ‘Pirates rendition’ of a famous artist, I only have documentaries on that artist playing in the background,” said Bissell. “I’ll play them on repeat for months trying to dive as deeply as possible into the mind of these artists while I study their work.” While we can’t know what the future holds for this young artist and artifacts aficionado, it seems safe to say that Bissell has all the necessary equipment in his tool belt to be something big down the line as he continues to develop and grow into his craft.
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