hVariety and exotic paintings Forest Piece. Unkempt black tables stumble across the room. Rows of similar faces, rows of rods, and something like a snowflake made of string. Face a golden flower, if it is a flower, in front of a mesa under a red sky. Sometimes they are unfathomable. The types of visual disturbances you experience when you press your knuckles on your closed eyelids. Creatures in the Field: Are They Dogs? cattle? Sheep? The arch over them is either a dead rod head, a bike seat, or something else entirely.
Things are still getting weirder in Out of the Blue, the first institutional presentation of the late American artist’s work in the UK. Born in 1911 south of Bay City, Pace worked for a time in his youth as an oil field captain, briefly studied architecture, and after a false start period of awkward expressionist formation and still life, was attached to a camouflage unit during World War I before the collapse. Beginning in the 1940s, Pace began recording visions that came to him before bed. He said he drew it and then painted it as accurately as he could. The more you look, the more its sheer simplicity and straightforwardness reveal a complex mind.
Small paintings, washed in artificial light, glow on the black walls (Pace always wanted to hang his paintings on black walls, but this is the first occasion when they are). Many were also to be kept, with their basic unpainted wood frames (salvaged timber wherever found), for examination and decipherment. The painter understood them to be things as much as images, messages from the subconscious as much as abstractions. His paintings continued to change but, in a way, always remained the same.
The Bess seemed to be their scribe like the author, and the paintings show themselves more fully, with few obvious revisions or changes of mind in their construction. They look straightforward and emphatic, but are often frustratingly unreadable. His surroundings in Chinquapin Bayou are in it – the reflections of moonlight on the water, the sun and the moon. Earning scant live prawns and fishing for bait and selling them to sport fishermen, Bess has lived most of his life on a small island at the edge of a community near the Texas coast in a treeless landscape of low tidal flats, sand bars and bayous. He painted in a series of dilapidated dwellings that he often had to rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes and storms. The things seen and experienced here undoubtedly entered into his paintings, but they are also filled with figures and symbols that are difficult to decipher, although he also painted annotated bed sheets which gave a sense of what these symbols refer to.
Bess has never been lonely or completely outlandish, and has shown up with Betty Parsons Gallery in New York from 1950 until 1967, where his stablemates included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and later Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin. However, Pace felt treated like a jolt in New York and retreated south. His sense of self-discovery did not depend on the city. Pace was also a well-established writer of letters, and he continued correspondence with the distinguished Art historian Meyer Shapiro (early champion); Other reporters include Carl Jung and Bruno Bettelheim, as well as Parsons herself. He also wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower.
Although he was sometimes seen as self-taught, he was well-communicated and intellectually curious. He studied alchemy, Taoism, and sex. Pace also wanted to be bisexual and made at least two attempts at self-surgery in the 1950s. Pace wrote a treatise explaining his ideas, illustrated with medieval woodcuts, medical illustrations, and pictures of his genitals. The thesis is now lost, although portions of the lettering illustrated on the topic are included in Camden’s presentation, as well as pages from his letters, exhibition catalogs, and other materials (the cabinets are too high for young children to find in the more disturbing images included here).
Many artists have felt that we are driven by ideas and beliefs that we may find vague, silly, or tiresome, but without them, the work of Hilma af ClintKandinsky and Mondrian would not have developed as well. Theosophy, mystical color symbolism, religious systems and even a belief in alien visits had their place in the works of some artists, along with the prevailing religious and philosophical beliefs, however good or poorly digested. How familiar is Bullock with his Jungian archetypes, or Barnett Newman his Kabbalah? Does it matter? A rich inner life is not to be underestimated if it can get you through the day.
There is deep purpose and subtlety in some of Pace’s most enigmatic work. In one of the paintings there are two plain pink rectangles on a dark floor. Bleeding away from one rectangle, an uneven area of raw, broken red drips onto the edge of the canvas. the sculptor Robert Guber (who thought a lot at Bess) He described these rectangles as testicles. In other panels we can read fantastical landscapes, plumes in the body, dichotomies and cleavages, orifices and golden sperms flowing through the testicles, and piles of symbols jostling in the brain. Pace died in 1977 and his work remains stubborn and unfathomable. It still haunts me.