Painting by Ethel le Rossignol
Painting by Ethel le Rossignol

Bishi, musician, artist, performer, on one of Ethel le Rossignol’s psychic paintings

GB Tell me why you chose this.

BB A friend of mine invited me to see her paintings at the Horse Hospital. I immediately loved the way that they’re so psychedelic and that art-deco crossover, but unusually, they don’t have that twenties colour palette, they’re completely technicolour. They also remind me of the Hindu imagery I grew up with – but still have a distinctly European flavour. Where East and West collide has always been at the crux of my life and work. I come from a Bengali background and I grew up in London.

GB Would you say that they’re two cultures with very different ideals of beauty?

BB Absolutely. My experience of British culture has always been about the underdog and beauty through filth and resistance. But in Bengal people were really into the British Empire and whatever’s at the top of the pyramid of power. They love the establishment. There are still collections of people in Calcutta who speak with cut-glass accents. They took the EM Forster novel and it became their reality.

GB And do you think this painting is closer to one side or the other?

BB I think both sides would like it. The Horse Hospital where it was shown celebrates avant-grade culture and occultism, so everybody I know who’s into what I term ‘wizardy shit’ would be into it.

GB So you’re into ‘wizardy shit’?

BB Oh yeah. Somewhere in between Jung and Jodorowsky and Alan Moore and Alan Watts, with Aldous Huxey thrown in the mix. People can laugh at it and deride it and say it’s rubbish, but I just smile. I have no reason to try to convert someone to my way of thinking. I was brought up as a Hindu with elephants and swans riding through the sky. I didn’t care if it existed or not. I can relate it’s mythicism to surrealist thinking and altered states with psychedelic drugs. I’ve found my own truth in performing, nightclubs, music, DJing and performance art. I like to see other people communicate their gift.

GB Do you believe Ethel’s story about she created these?

BB Ethel attributes them to a spirit known as J.P.F. She channeled voices and the paintings came from these spirits. This appealed to me because I work with the human voice, songwriting with vocal layering. I also work in a collaborative way, channeling the voices of my the musicians & artists I work with. I like to see myself in a dialogue between different styles of music and different forms of art and communication.

GB When you saw the pictures, did you already know about their background and how they were created?

BB No, I was just completely hypnotised the second I saw them. It was a visceral experience.

GB Did you find out more about Ethel later?

BB Ethel died in the 1970s as a 96 year old, leaving 44 of these paintings. Half of them were donated to the College of Psychic Studies.

GB Do you think she made up the name Ethel le Rossignol?

BB I think she might have. She certainly understood show business on some level. She was a nurse during the First World War. There was a great spiritualist movement after the war because people were so horrified by the murder and destruction.

GB Have you heard the equivalent in music?

BB I think we all do it in music! But no one has openly admitted it.

GB So do you think inspiration comes from outside you – or is it all in your mind?

BB When it happens for me, it’s like a firework that goes off. I can’t fake it. As soon as I try to find it I don’t. Things come to you when you’re not looking. The best thing is to keep your head down and lose yourself in being who you are.

GB Is beauty something you think about in your work?

BB I never consciously think of beauty in that way because I think it’s such a difficult thing to define. But I see beauty in everything and everyone even when things are really dark and negative. I can always find inspiration. I think that turns into something beautiful. We live in a society that seems out to deride and shame people. Women in particular are so objectified.

GB Do you believe in universal beauty?

BB I think it’s dependent on your state of mind to a great extent but I’m interested in the way certain archetypes and  mythologies have remained in the public consciousness for thousands of years. There are certain things that we all respond to whatever our background or education.

GB It seems that you’re very visually led for a musician?

BB I would describe myself as a visual musician. When I was sixteen I read a book called Talking Music by William Duckworth and it had interviews with Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Conlon Nancarrow – and that was the moment it all made sense. I’ve made collaborative work with interactive visuals timed to my music. I  have been quite uncompromising about it. It’s not easy, but to have authority over my work has been the greatest liberation.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

BB I think it’s connected to that flash of inspiration and something that takes you out of yourself. It can be disturbing. It takes you out of yourself and onto another plane. You shouldn’t have to try. It enters your existence and you don’t question it.  Curiosity is important. I know so many different types of people and you might say they’re eccentric but they have that curiosity.


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