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The Paintings of Forrest Bess: 1946-67

Spots, 1967

Because we began here, of sods in the mind, he sat on his hot water pier. This was or was not Texas, all lowering of pelican and gull. What fish may be best? What parts, heads or fin? Do you have the simple worm? Ah great god, you’ve sent vision of the natural sky. Ah I am in love. Oh sorry that I am. Build clear to this ache in my eye.

The Dicks, 1946

What do we already see, this wet horizon? This a man, this a paint. They shimmer, the dicks, oh uncontrollable. Still so sure and still, taking up the margins, waiting for the hurricanes on the marsh.

The Warrior, 1947

At the elbow of the brain, walking there. I fight the alligators and minotaurs, the lesser halves of women. You see the rough-turned wire? You see the hooks in the head? You see the tar of the mouth? You see the fresco of fingernail? You see the white a-boil? You see the substrate that can’t be smoothed? You see the cabin there in the sand? All of these.

Untitled, 1951

There up on the mount, the number, the legion, light. Slate has run wet and dry, eyed. Take us back now, dead, take us up. These dim cables of Gotham.

Untitled #39, 1950

That dream over a night sky, same and different, the ordinary tooth of it. Remember hands of sand? The cupidity of hills? We were all there then, dad and I, this head not broken. Whereof the cracks send down light to light the unlit. That it does something to a body.

And all the things i have forgotten, 1953

You are frightened? You are. You are frightened? You are. Take these great ark. Take these great ark for covenant with dirt. For blasphemy of covenant of dirt.

Mandala, 1955

Sea grape and grape shot, the seed of the 17th god, barracho la playa enfermos. You see me now. Ears four points, three winds and a gale. The fog shall drop and we all lie low. The fish do skim their own bright skiffs.

Drawings, 1957

I think we can tell you 5 things: that the sea spins, that the god will die, that the wires of the head shall sing, that an old man takes breath, that we look to see the enveloped beauty of souls.

Gold mountain, 1966

Perhaps here at the end, fell down and shy, the lifting of eyes, a great shield of signs. It’s only a paint, a man. Build now to the ache in the hand. Wherever the gold says, we will have, have to go.


Forrest Bess ran a bait shop on the Gulf Coast of Texas; he lived in a shack he built from the old hull of a tugboat. He'd had visions since he was a small boy, his first coming to him one Easter morning in 1915. Bess wished to be a hermaphrodite, operating on himself once toward this aim and receiving a second from a doctor. His work sold only sparsely despite the efforts of famed New York gallerist Betty Parsons. His paintings are small, furious, and with awe.

Written 2012

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