March 8, 2008

Forrest Bess

Mind Crystal, 1946, oil on canvas, 24.5" x 28.75"

Forrest Bess is that kind of artist rare at any time, a real visionary painter. He is not inspired by texts of poetry or religion, but by a strange significance in what he alone has seen. He also paints what he imagines and is faithful to its character as the imagined. It may be the heavens or the ocean, but the picture is small, true to the size of the image in his head, and a unique picture, never repeating or re-arranging an already achieved view. This painted image is perfectly clear like a printed emblem or sign. Skill, power of rendering, the delights of spontaneity of the hand, do not tempt him; the handling is straightforward like the simple forms, soberly objective, without trace of the exaltation that comes with experience of a sought-for hidden sign. So plain and frank is the painting, so much like the unmoulded strips of weathered wood with which he frames his pictures, that it seems at first sight the work of a self-taught civilized primitive with limited skill. But look at his wonderful blacks, of many nuances: granular, matt, shiny and rough, and you will recognize his knowledge and discipline, his mastery of an exacting technique. The placing of the few elements has a natural sureness and is sometimes of a startling compositional wit. Colors and forms inhere together like the qualities in an object from nature, captivating in their coarse substance. These grave little pictures, so broad and firm in conception, have held up over the years. They have kept their first impact of mystery and that air of secret insight symbolized for the painter by the objects and the enigmatic object-like forms. We cannot read them as the author does; but, undeciphered, we feel the beauty and completeness of his art.

by Meyer Schapiro, Catalog Essay for Retrospective at Betty Parsons Gallery, January 1962

The Crowded Mind, 1946, medium and size unknown (b+w photo)

Here is a Sign, 1970, oil on canvas, 17.5"x13.5"

Homage to Ryder, 1951, oil on canvas, 9.75"x13.75"

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