Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible

Edited by Clare Elliott. Yale Univ./Menil, $60 (112p) ISBN 978-0-300-18973-5
Alongside a traveling retrospective of Bess's work, this catalogue makes an uncompromising case for the visionary artist's relevance to modern painting. Bess experienced a stuttering career, his paintings (their repetitive ideograms and rich colors commonly aligned with abstract expressionism) finding ardent supporters in fellow artists and curators, like the influential Betty Parsons. However, Bess was also by trade a fisher in a small Texas town; a rough man graced with visionary hallucinations and committed to the lessons of his subconscious, among them an obsessive interest in a "hermaphroditic" state that he pursued through self-surgery. Suffering from nervous breakdowns and alcoholism, Bess never found widespread acceptance from the art world; his psycho-religious gender theories and the small scale of his painting both marking him as different from that which collectors and museums regularly embraced. Those differences now illuminate Bess's work, the images here given elegant reproductions and his theories treated respectfully, if often for the artist's devotion to them rather than their content. Although occasionally capitalizing on his perceived aberrancies, the catalogue manages to celebrate Bess on his own terms rather than slipping into a lurid or defensive stance that sometimes defines his reception, allowing further insight into his oracular paintings without reducing their mystery. Color illustrations. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/2013
Release date: 06/01/2013
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