Out of the Blue - Camden Art Centre

Forrest Bess (b.1911-1977, Bay City, Texas) was a visionary American painter who produced an extraordinary body of work between the 1940s and 1970s.

Living in a shack on the bay of the Gulf in Chinquapin, Texas, and making a living as a bait fisherman, Bess painted the dreams and visions which he experienced throughout his life. Working on a small scale, with modest materials, his paintings developed a highly personal and often cryptic symbolist language, which also drew on his extensive research into various mythological, spiritual and alchemical traditions, as well as his own experiences and research into queer and non-normative gender identities.  Drawing together rarely seen paintings from public and private collections across the world, the exhibition presents more than 40 works, many of which were hand-framed by the artist in driftwood. These are presented alongside extensive archival material relating to Bess’s wide-ranging research, including material from his ‘Thesis’, an ongoing research project around the conjunction of male and female energies and anatomies that preoccupied him for much of his life.


Image: Forrest Bess, Untitled (Rainbow with Arc), n.d. Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody. Photo: Robert Glowacki. Courtesy of Modern Art, London

Images Supporters The Artist


Thanks to the Fridericianum, Kassel for their support in realising this exhibition.

We are grateful to all those who have generously supported our Forrest Bess exhibition including Lead Supporter Lucy Pereira and all those who wish to remain anonymous. With special thanks to Stuart Shave / Modern Art, London and to TFA London, our lead transport partner for the Forrest Bess Exhibition.

The Artist

Forrest Bess was born in 1911 in Bay City, TX, and died there in 1977. He studied architecture at college before joining the war effort as a member of the camouflage unit. A fixture in the early artistic communities of Houston and San Antonio, he painted his first mature visions in 1946, having sublimated his visionary ‘source’ the previous decade. He began showing at Betty Parsons Gallery four years later. His works were well known by many of the leading curators of his day, and were acquired by influential collectors; yet Bess died in relative obscurity. Often described as an ‘artist’s artist’, he has been the subject of renewed curatorial and scholarly attentions in recent years. Sculptor Robert Gober curated an installation of Bess’s paintings at the 2012 Whitney Biennial, realising the artist’s previously overlooked desire to exhibit his ‘thesis’ alongside his artworks. The following year, The Menil Collection in Houston mounted the retrospective Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, which later travelled to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY; and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. In 2020, a landmark retrospective was organised by the Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. A monograph published on the occasion is forthcoming.