Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible

When: June 11-Sept. 14 2014

Forrest Bess was a fisherman, painter, biological theorist, and self-proclaimed visionary who lived in near-isolation on the Texas Gulf Coast for most of this life. He consistently experienced hallucinations and visions that emerged through a unique vocabulary of symbols. Bess translated these symbols into paintings, rendered in rich pigments and rough textures that offer a visceral viewing experience. Many of these works are now on view at BAM/PFA (2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley) in the fascinating show Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible. Bess believed that his visions pointed to a broader universal truth about collective consciousness. His theory involved the argument that by merging the two biological sexes through surgery — a procedure that he underwent himself — one could attain immortality. He spent years compiling his “thesis,” a book that outlined evidence for this theory. Bess’ “thesis” and his paintings corresponded crucially, but he was never given the opportunity to show them together before he died in 1977. Although the actual book is now lost, BAM/PFA is displaying an array of ephemera regarding his scholarship, along with his paintings, in order to offer the closest experience possible to the first full realization of Bess’ bizarrely beautiful vision.

Sarah Burke

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