James Benning (artist and filmmaker, Los Angeles): Finding Bess (in English)
Thursday, February 27, 2020, 6 pm
In 2005 James Benning began to craft hand-painted replicas of pieces by self-taught artists. Often referred to as “outsider artists,” these painters and illustrators created work outside of the conventional artistic establishment. By painstakingly replicating these works—both in terms of composition, technique, and materiality—Benning became intimately acquainted with the source works’ finer details.
Benning installed a number of these works in his recreations of cabins that the author Henry David Thoreau built around 1845 in the forests of Massachusetts and that the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski built in 1971 in the wilderness of the U.S. state of Montana to test alternative ways of life. Benning subsequently developed a wide-ranging and complex discourse that was extensively documented in his book (FC) Two Cabins by JB (2011), edited by Julie Ault. At the heart of this publication are photographs showing both cabins, the paintings housed within them, as well as the artist monographs that first introduced the source paintings to a broader public.
Among Benning’s outsider artist-inspired paintings are a number replicating works by Forrest Bess,a figure instrumental to his exploration of self-taught artists as a whole. In Finding Bess, Benning will discuss his process of discovering Forrest Bess’ artistic production and how it has influenced his own.
Clare Elliott (The Menil Collection, Houston): “Finally – a Bit of Prophecy.” The Paintings and Thesis of Forrest Bess (in English)
Thursday, February 27, 2020, 7 pm
Forrest Bess (1911-1977), a unique figure of American art history, lived an isolated existence in a fishing camp on the Texas Coast. He painted visions that he saw in dream states, creating an abstract vocabulary that was mysterious, even to him. Bess believed that studying the symbols in his paintings would reveal ancient truths. What Bess discovered in his works he combined with theories he found in alchemy, mythology, anthropology, and psychology. Against this background, he developed the obsession to unite male and female within himself in order to become a ”pseudo-hermaphrodite.”
Clare Elliott’s lecture “Finally – a Bit of Prophecy,” The Paintings and Thesis of Forrest Bess explores what Bess described as his “thesis”: a written summary of his central thoughts and findings.
Clare Elliott is Associate Research Curator at the Menil Collection, Houston. In 2013 she curated the exhibition Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, the first retrospective of the artist’s work in more than twenty years.
Admission to the event is free.