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Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible

Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible

By Clare Elliott, with a contribution by Robert Gober.


The eccentric visionary artist Forrest Bess (1911–1977) spent most of his life on the Texas coast working as a commercial fisherman. In his spare time, however, he painted prolifically, creating an extraordinary body of work rich with enigmatic symbolism. Bess experienced hallucinations that both frightened and intrigued him, and he incorporated images from these visions into small-scale abstract paintings starting in the mid-1940s.


His canvases attracted an underground following, and between 1949 and 1967 Betty Parsons organized six solo exhibitions of Bess’s work at her prominent New York City gallery. Since then, the art world has periodically rediscovered his work, most recently through a 2012 Whitney Biennial installation by American sculptor Robert Gober, which further exposed Bess’s psychological, medical, and religious theories. Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible is the artist’s first museum retrospective with a catalog in the United States. The essay by exhibition curator Clare Elliott and contribution by Robert Gober offer a fresh look at Bess’s life and work. 


Published in conjunction with the exhibition Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, on view at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive from June 11 to September 14, 2014. 


Paper over board. Published in 2013 by The Menil Collection, Houston. 112 pages. 60 color illustrations.