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 Forrest Clemenger Bess  (1911 - 1977)

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Lived/Active: Texas      Known for: modernist-non ob dream imagery

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Ad Code: 3
Forrest Clemenger Bess
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Forrest Clemenger Bess was an abstract artist, teacher, and framemaker. Most of his works emanated from visions seen in his dreams and recorded into a bedside log. His oil paintings were small and depicted personal symbolic images including eyes, lines, crosses, crescents, and other simple geometric forms.

Forrest Bess was born in 1911 in Bay City, Texas. As a youngster, he spent time in various oil towns in Oklahoma and Texas, as his father was an itinerant oil worker. Bess' grandmother likely provided his interest in art. His first art lessons were given to him by a neighbor in 1924.

He studied architecture in 1929 at what is now Texan A&M University, and his other intellectual interests included Greek mythology, English literature, and the study of the works of Freud and Darwin. Two years later, Bess began studies at the University of Texas, but shortly quit after two years to work in the Texas oil fields. After saving enough money, Bess went to Mexico where he began to paint in a manner influenced by Van Gogh and Maurice Vlaminck, a style he called post-impressionist. He opened a studio in 1934 in Bay City, and two years later had his first exhibition in a local hotel lobby.

During World War II, Bess was involved with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After spending time in a Veteran's Hospital in San Antonio in 1946, for symptoms of a mental breakdown, Bess took a job there giving art lessons. A few years later, in response to his father's failing health, he returned to Bay City to care for his family's bait business. He remained there for the rest of his life caring for the business as well as giving art lessons and painting.

In 1949, Bess' first major exhibition took place in New York City, promoted by gallery owner Betty Parsons. Parsons represented major artists involved with Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painters. Additional exhibitions followed throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Bess' work has been included in many major galleries and exhibitions including the Corcoran Gallery Biennial in 1939, the Witte Museum in San Antonio in 1938 and 1967, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1951, the Andre Emmerich Gallery in Houston in 1958, the Oklahoma Art Center in Oklahoma City in 1951, and the New Arts Gallery in Houston in 1963, among many others.

Many Texas collectors and artists were drawn to Bess' work in the 1960s. Towards the end of that decade, Bess' career began to ebb, as his theory on hermaphroditism alienated many. His eccentricity preceded a stroke he suffered in 1974, and was admitted to a state hospital, later to be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He soon stopped painting and died in 1977 in Bay City, Texas.

After his death, exhibitions of Bess' work took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Butler Gallery in Houston, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany. The Smithsonian Institute's archives of American Art houses much of his correspondence.

John and Deborah Powers, "Texas Painters, Sculptors, and Graphic Artists"

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