Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Forrest for the Trees: Forrest Bess Revisited, Rethought, and Refelt pt2

Having written about Forrest Bess over 30 years ago and wanting to know how my feelings might have changed after all that time because of the recent surge of interest in his work, I find that I need to rethink this complicated artist.

At the time I had immersed myself in everything I could get my hands on. I had Betty Parsons treasure trove of material in my possession, letters, photographs, etc., and some of the paintings themselves.

In retrospect I have to concede that I was probably in too deep, that I was too weirded out, and that I probably lost the forest for the trees. I almost lost my mind, to be honest, and as a result I lost perspective.

In retrospect I find now that I can feel lighter, and less weighed down by the intensity and passion of his quest. I think I failed to give the man as much respect as I gave the work 30 years ago. 30 years ago I was always trying to keep those things separate. Maybe out of respect, ironically, but now I have no interest in separating a person from his or her work. I don't think you can draw that line. A person is their work and vice versa. Richard Tuttle tried very hard to explain that to me just about 35 years ago. Wow!

Forrest Bess had ideas and dreams he wanted the time and space to explore, and Texas gave him that in a way that New York would never have; some artists can never turn off the city completely and just be and work. His paintings were the result of all of that time and space he found on the Gulf. This is a very pure kind of art. Bess was poet, philosopher, scientist, explorer, shaman, channel, vessel, and lone wolf howling at the moon. Visionary, yes, fisherman, yes, in every sense of the word. Primal and divine. Arms stretched out to the universe.

His paintings are inspirations, pictograms, ideograms, diagrams, documents, maps, clues, signs, plans. They take us through his door. And isn't that marvelous? Isn't art marvelous that way? Isn't life marvelous that way?We go through that door and we see life through our brother or sister, even after they've long vanished from the face of this earth. Thank you art. Thank you Forrest Bess.


Anonymous said...

Great evolution in your relationship to Bess.Glad to hear about the fishing and the natural environment.YOu always told me these things have a profound subliminal effect on us. These are artists we can keep learning from.To see Picasso in deKooning is something I knew obviously,but this time I truly saw it as though they were compressed in time and were a just a few days apart in cosmic time.Artists talking to each other over time.Did picasso and dekooning ever meet?I guess they did in their souls.


Anonymous said...

Addison - Thanks for your insight on FB. He’s been with you for a long time. We drove down to the city yesterday to see his work in the Whitney and at Christies. The room at the Whitney was so much like our show at the gallery a few years ago that it was a deja vu moment for us. I loved the room there but the rest of the BiAnnual was a bit like a freak show. What some people think is art these days escapes me, anyhow. Roberta Smith’s review of the Christie’s show was right on the money and right on the selection. There were a few really great paintings (mostly borrowed from museums) but I found myself most strongly attracted to his really early ones – the ones with figures. They have that oddness and intensity that I like best in his work.

John Baker