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Published on Jun 23, 2014
Clare Elliott, assistant curator at The Menil Collection and organizer of Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, explores the diverse influences on Bess's paintings, from alchemical texts and aboriginal initiations to the writings of Carl Jung. Elliott also situates the curious and complicated artist within the larger context of twentieth-century American art.
Forrest Bess (1911--1977) described himself as a visionary artist. His small but powerful abstract paintings, with their thick paint and handmade rough-hewn frames, are deeply personal. They draw on a vocabulary of simple biomorphic shapes and symbols the artist developed over the course of years from his recurring visions; when he awoke each morning, he would sketch the shapes he had seen on the inside of his eyelids in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness. While resonant with Modernist abstraction, Bess's beautiful and mysterious pictures suggest a spirituality akin to indigenous religious icons.