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Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible



The Menil Collection is now exhibiting a comprehensive collection of American painter Forrest Bess’ artwork. The exhibit is open every day from April 12- August 18 and displays 48 of the artist’s visionary paintings that range from 1946 to 1970.

Forrest Bess lived in a fishing camp outside of Bay City, TX for most of his career, earning his living as a fisherman and selling bate. He served in the army for a short period of time, where he suffered from a head injury. After his time serving the US, he lived essentially isolated on a fishing camp only accessible by boat.

Bess spent the majority of his free time writing and producing artwork with deep personal significance. His mother inspired his love for art, which ultimately became the focal point in his life. He described himself as a “visionary” artist. He could close his eyes and paint a picture in his mind, which he would translate onto canvas.

He taught himself how to paint by copying the works of talented artists. He invoked symbolism and personal elements in his images, producing meaningful depictions from his imagination.

Though he was born in Bay City, he eventually attended college to study architecture. However, his interests diverged to a focus in religion, psychology, and anthropology. Only a few years into college, he dropped out, but continued his pursuit of creating art.

Bess maintained relationships with other prominent artists, from which he took inspiration. In 1949 worked with artist and dealer Betty Parsons. Parsons displayed an exhibit of Bess’ artwork her gallery in New York, along with works by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Bess’ numerous letters illuminate his interest in a theory based on the philosophy by Carl Jung that emphasized that becoming hermaphrodite would lead to mortality. Bess conducted his self-transformation surgery, but complications from the procedure led to his deterioration. After suffering from alcoholism, he passed away in 1977 in a nursing home in Bay City.

  • Location: The Menil Collection
  • Venue: The Menil Collection
  • Address: 1515 Sul Ross, Houston, TX 77006
  • Phone:713-525-9400
  • Times: during museum hours
  • Visit Event Website
  • Area of Town: Museum District
  • Free Admission: Yes


Bess Forrest

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