I visited my brother in law and his wife in Houston, Texas this weekend. But before I left NYC I stopped by the Whitney and took a good look at a Texas Gulf Coast artist named Forest Bess (1911- 1977). I thought maybe I would find some more of his work down here... I missed a show of his in Houston by a month (bummer). Anyway, Forest Bess' work is pretty darn good but his life story is great. First and foremost he is a visionary or mystic... his art I think is secondary... which slightly impacts the way that I view his work. For someone like Forest his art simply is what it is... an offshoot of his larger message.
In a nut shell his bio is something like this... he was born and lived in Texas on the Gulf Coast and worked as a fisherman. He was educated but he was isolated. He was homosexual, suffered from mental breakdowns, and was deeply spiritual in his own private way. He did show his art in his own life time, especially at Betty Parsons Gallery. He was intrigued by the writtings of Carl Jung and his ideas of the collective unconscious. Aside from his art he is best known for performing self surgery in which he cut a small hole into the base of his penis making himself a hermaphrodite (he did this for spiritual reasons... as an attempt to unite the male with female aspect of himself). His art certainly reflects his interest in sexuality. "The Hermaphrodite" was one of his most striking paintings at the Whitney.
|Forest Bess at the Whitney Biennial|
In 1961 hurricane Carla destroyed Forest Bess' studio and home. He was devastated. Many large paintings of his were lost. Then in 1974 he was placed into a hospital and diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. He died three years later. We are left with his wonderful mysterious paintings. He was an extraordinary example of the heroic power of Modernism and a beacon of authenticity at a time when strategy and concept dominate. Thank you Robert Gober and thank you Forest Bess.
You can see more of his work at http://www.forrestbess.org and you can see an excellent video of two Forest Bess exhibits at Loren Monk's "The James Kalm Report" (below).