Forrest Bess (1911-1977) lived simply, alone on a small island off the Gulf Coast of Texas, not far from Bay City, Texas, where he was born, supporting himself as a fisherman. Yet he had grand ambitions including a quest for immortality which he believed could be achieved when man possessed both male and female sexual characteristics. His independent passion and fierce commitment to his ideas and practice are evident in his powerful paintings, and his singular work garnered him shows at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York City alongside Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko.
A self-proclaimed visionary, Forrest Bess painted his somnolent revelations. Predominantly small-scale abstractions, his artworks are populated with idiosyncratic, personal symbols. They are careful combinations of elemental lines and forms that aggregate into mysterious hieroglyphs that feel drawn from a primitive language, recalling a primordial history shared by us all. Bess described his method as transposing his visions exactly, in the effort to capture their fleeting content and atmosphere. His colors are bold, his paint handling is coarse, his methods and techniques imbue his works with palpable energy. Scaled to his mind’s eye, the paintings are intimate, little windows that invite viewers to look closely and contemplate a vastness that unfolds slowly.
Throughout his lifetime and in the years following, Bess’s mysterious and captivating abstractions have maintained loyal followers. One was Harry Burkhart, a neighbor of the artist who, in exchange for sandwiches and companionship, received paintings. Burkhart eventually amassed an extensive collection which he bequeathed to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In 1962, Bess wrote, “My painting is tomorrow’s painting. Watch and see.” His works have a timeless quality, at once deeply personal and powerfully universal. The art historian Meyer Schapiro considered Bess “…that kind of artist rare at any time, a real visionary painter.” His major monographic museum exhibitions took place after his death, beginning in 1981, when Barbara Haskell mounted her acclaimed show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, followed by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago in 1988 and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 1989.
Christie’s is honored to present Forrest Bess, an exhibition which will serve to reintroduce Bess to the wider public. With works available for sale privately, the show will also generate vital revenue for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and their important research.
Post-War & Contemporary Art