Forrest Bess

Year and place of birth: 1911, Bay City, Texas, USA Date of death: 1977 , USA
Forest Bess M o J 01 002 O

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Forrest Bess was an American visionary painter who lived most of his life at a fishing camp in Chinquapin, near Bay City, Texas. Growing up with an oil worker father and a creative-minded mother, the family was constantly on the move in his early childhood. From his childhood experiences, Bess learned early on that art could help him escape from harsh surroundings.

Most of the time, Bess worked as a commercial fisherman, painting in his spare time small, abstract but intense, symbol-laden paintings which he called “visions”. Dreams and philosophy were important in his artistic practice. Bess based his thinking on an amalgam of ideas he found in Carl Jung’s teachings, Kundalini yoga, alchemy, Australian Aboriginal culture. They inspired him to believe that the path to completeness and immortality could only be achieved through what he called hermaphroditism. "Art is a search for beauty" he wrote to his gallerist Betty Parsons in 1954, "but not a superficial beauty—a very deep longing for a uniting of lost parts."

Parsons was one of Bess’ most important supporters. She gave him his first solo exhibition in New York City, represented him until 1967 and showed his work alongside artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. It was only in the late 20th century that the work by Forrest Bess gained international recognition and was exhibited in numerous museums, including solo exhibitions at: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1981); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1988); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1989), and the Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2020).

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