PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Dallas December 2021

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Page 39 of 99

Clockwise from top: "Forrest Bess: I Can Close My Eyes in a Dark Room," at The Ranch, Montauk, NY, through December 18, Forrest Bess' Untitled, not dated; Untitled, not dated; Mandala of the Tent, 1954. lifetime. Bess is a touchstone of the MFAH's collection of Texas artists, gracing the cover of Alison Greene's Texas: 150 Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His works are also in the collections of MoMA and the Whitney in New York. During our conversation, Hopper contemplated the best venue to present the discovery of 14 signature Bess canvases — works that were previously unknown, with the exception of Mandala of the Tent, 1954, exhibited in the 1957 group show "Pacemakers" at the CAMH. He sensed a bigger national stage for Bess was better than showing this work in his own Dallas gallery. We jointly came up with the idea of approaching Chris Byrne, whom Hopper knew as the co-founder of Dallas Art Fair, as well as the owner/ founder of the Elaine de Kooning House residency in East Hampton. Within two I started researching my documentary Key to the Riddle. Over 30 years later, the story of this painter/fisherman/ philosopher from Texas still fascinates me. If someone claimed to find a bunch of Jackson Pollock paintings in their back shed, the art world would balk. But the world of Forrest Bess is full of improbable stories that turn out to be true." We queried Hopper about the meaning and magic of these miniscule canvases. "In the words of the artist Andrew Masullo: 'He showed me that a painting small in size can be monumental in every way that matters,'" the gallerist says. "'That a painting made with a tube or two of paint, a paintbrush, and a scape of canvas can triumph over those pyrotechnic concoctions that I see so often in the galleries.'" Byrne says of Bess' ongoing outsized role as cult figure for today's painters: "It still seems inconceivable to me that he lived and worked in Bay City, Texas. His intimate images offer the complete post-war vocabulary for painting — contemporary artists now (knowingly or unknowingly) begin with Bess' personal iconography … Although initially overlooked by many 20th-century art historians, Bess now rightfully appears as one of the major artists of his time." months of our meeting, an exhibition opened, organized by independent curator Byrne and gallerist/collector Hopper during New York's fall season at The Ranch. There, Bess' unforgettable canvases, their primacy in inverse proportion to their modest size, hold court installed against the pristine walls of a 1920s barn transformed into white-cube gallery. Bess authority NYC- based Chuck Smith also entered the equation, as the filmmaker whose 1999 documentary is considered essential to understanding Bess' life and truth. Smith writes of his ongoing obsession with the painter: "I fell into the world of Forrest Bess in the late 1980s when "ARTISTS HAVE TOLD ME THAT ONCE THEY DISCOVERED PAINTINGS BY BESS, THEY HAVE A CURIOSITY TO LEARN MORE — TO DISCOVER WHY THEY ARE SO DRAWN TO THESE LITTLE CRUDE CANVASES THAT HAUNT THEM." — Kirk Hopper 38

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