Forrest Bess

Hiram Butler Gallery

Forrest Bess has long been more of a legend in the Houston art community than an artistic presence or influence. There hasn’t been a major show of his work during the last 24 years, while tales of his eccentric life and thought continually circulate. The exhibition organized by Terrell James corrected this situation, in part, by bringing to view 25 of Bess’ paintings done between 1934 and 1970.

Bess died in 1977 in Bay City, Texas, where he was born in 1911 and spent much of his adult life fishing and selling bait to survive. His art career, however, was by no means merely regional. He began exhibiting in 1949, and a 1962 retrospective included in its catalogue an essay by Meyer Schapiro in which Schapiro remarks on the tendency to read the work as the product “of a self-taught, educated primitive,” whereas on close examination the paintings belie this apparent naiveté by virtue of Bess’

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