By day, Forrest Bess ran a one-man bait camp on the Gulf of Mexico. By night, in his two-room shack, Bess was haunted by terrible visions of ancient bulls, abstract symbols, and desolate, primeval landscapes—which he translated into one of modern art’s most extraordinary bodies of painting, on canvases often smaller than a sheet of paper. Bess and his paintings were discovered in 1949 by renowned art dealer Betty Parsons, and his work would eventually be displayed alongside that of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and other abstract expressionists. But Bess struggled his whole life with the fear of madness, and obsessed over becoming a hermaphrodite, which he thought was the key to immortality. Bess’s art and his extensive correspondence bear fascinating witness to this struggle.
This groundbreaking biography by psychoanalyst and author Steven Poser—featuring dozens of Bess’s letters and including eight of his acclaimed paintings—explores that narrow line between insanity and creative genius where so many brilliant artists and visionaries have walked.