Forrest Bess

November 10 1977

Age 66, Houston

Read Rest of this Excellent Article, and see his Art Works

Much celebrated after his death
See Wiki Bio

below, perhaps a self-portrait

Forrest Bess, by Randy Tibbits, Art Historian, 2022

Forrest Bess (1911-1977) is the most famous Texas artist from earlier times.
Some of his paintings, the so-called visionary ones, sell for hundreds of
thousands of $s. There's an exhibition of them on view in London, England,
right now. In recent years there've been other exhibitions in Germany, at
the Whitney Museum in New York, The Menil in Houston and the Hammer in
LA. He's world renowned.

He was also - and these are his words, not mine - "a peculiar kind of homosexual."
That's the way he described himself in a 1950 coming-out letter to friends. He
didn't go into what exactly he meant by "peculiar," but he did allow as how even
for those close friends it might be a "bitter pill." But that was the price of friendship,
and if it was hard for them, it had been even harder for him. "There - it's written!"
he said, and once written, and mailed, it had to be faced, no matter how hard.

In his letter he told how he'd left his Bay City hometown, back in 1938, when
someone he'd confided in, someone he thought he could trust, blabbed his
"peculiar" secret all over town. After that even his Bay City friends couldn't have
anything to do with him, for fear they'd be tarred themselves with his homosexual

So he moved to Houston and found "protection in numbers with people I thought
were my own kind." He did find some of his own kind among the artsy Cherry-McNeill
Group who populated Houston's mid-town at the time, and all went well at first. He
renovated an old stable into a studio/gallery where he showed his own art, along with
that of some of his new Houston friends, life partners Gene Charlton and Carden Bailey
along with others. He joined them in putting on exhibitions about art and dance, and art
and abstraction. But after a while he found that even in Houston things weren't working
out: "I was too 'butch' - rough for them - I was an oddity and I didn't fit - I wasn't
effeminate enough." This from a guy who, later on, did a bit of self-surgery so he'd be
both male and female, and not just in a figurative way. No surprise that a recent scholar
has cast him as a harbinger of today's more gender fluid age.

After a stint back in Bay City, he joined the military when World War II came along, and
he did well there too - "channeled the sexual feeling - made an officer - citations and
commendations." But then, as he told his friends, he messed up once after a night of too much
drinking and too much excitement, and wound up in the hospital with a caved in skull -
"lead pipe and facing court-martial and disgrace." All that saved him from that disgrace
was the revelation that his gay-basher had tried the same blackmail and robbery trick on
other officers three time before. It was after the bashing that he concentrated on painting
the paintings that have made him famous, working from visions he saw on the insides of his

After the war, he moved back to Bay City, vowing that he would never again give anyone
the chance to use "lead pipe - heels, or blackmail" against him for being homosexual. He
wouldn't declare to the world that he was "queer," but he wouldn't deny it either if
anyone asked. He took up a solitary life in a bait camp/studio he built at Chinquapin -
solitary, but not the hermit life now part of his myth, since visitors were always stopping
by, so many it's hard to see how he ever got any painting done. He made trips to Houston,
and even New York, where his paintings caused a stir every time prominent gallerist,
Betty Parsons, showed them in her gallery.

But at home in Bay City there was "no sex" because he didn't want to embarrass his father,
who "couldn't understand at all." By the time of his 1950 letter, he related that "there has
been no sex here for me for the last three years." Sounds a little bleak, maybe, but there
was a silver lining for his art: "I have knocked myself out working too hard many times. It is
the only way release can be obtained." And now he's world famous. Even sublimation has
it's up side!