Viewers have called Larry Blissett everything from “the Chicano Basquiat” to “a watered-down Picasso.”
The Santa Fe artist and former contractor laughs at the labels and shrugs off any criticism with, “Some people don’t think it’s artwork, but I don’t care. ”
Blissett’s work is available at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery, 544 S. Guadalupe St.
Completely self-taught, he paints raw, expressionist portraits using bold colors in a style described as “art brut,” “outsider art” and “neo expressionist.” He paints with a vigor verging on Basquiat sans the graffiti.
He calls it “loner art.”
Born in Texas, Blissett worked as a contractor for 25 years before a heart attack led him to paintbrush and palette.
“I was doing a remodel for my daughter in California,” he said. “They had an apartment for me and every night I’d go veg out and watch television. Toward the end of it, I decided I had to do something else.”
He headed to the nearest art supply store. It was 2009 and the first time he had painted anything since school.
“I did take one art class,” he said. “I didn’t to anything the teacher told me to. I got in trouble. I think I got a D in that class,” he added, laughing.
Living in Santa Fe for the last 30 years, Blissett was first invited to show his art in an Amarillo, Texas, gallery. But the owner died before the opening. Then a Sedona, Arizona, gallerist came calling.
“She was kind of a shyster,” Blissett said. “She made a lot of artists mad. We had a falling out. Six months later, she called, begging me to bring my stuff back. Within six months, she was out of business.”
He got the call from Blue Rain 30 years ago. He also has showed his work at Santa Fe’s Contemporary Spanish Market.
“I just start putting paint on a canvas or a piece of Masonite,” Blissett said. “When it starts to turn into something, I take it from there.”
He listens to ZZ Top, the Rolling Stones, Link Wray, the Doors and various blues artists as he works. He cites influences from New Mexico artists such as John Nieto, Mateo Romero and James Havard to Fritz Scholder and John Axton.
He says his acrylic painting “Radiant Child,” his vision of a shocked or terrified face sprouting a halo of dreadlocks, stems from the “genre Basquiat.”
“It started as three or four different paintings,” Blissett said. “I just kept adding to it.
“Some of the stuff I think will never sell, sells,” he added.
“Wolf Eyes” appears to be a Native American bedecked in war paint.
“Preciosa, Miss Persimmon Lips” represents “every uptight woman you ever met in your life,” Blissett said. “A lot of those titles are humorous. I like to have fun with it.”
None of his imagery can be confused with photography. He marries abstraction with representationalism. Replications remain rare. His hand turns to color, bold daubs of paint and texture, driven by instinct.
Ever the contractor, when he and his wife moved to Santa Fe, he built their home.
“The house is my crowning achievement, I guess,” he said.