Forrest Bess already had the reputation of an eccentric, so it didn’t surprise the locals in the diner in Wadsworth, Texas, when he rushed in one day in 1953 shouting and waving a letter. “He wrote back to me! He wrote back to me!” Bess exclaimed, skipping from table to table. The letter was from Carl Jung, and it was the first of six exchanges by the artist and the famous psychiatrist. That the two became correspondents is just one of the many curious aspects of this most curious artist.

From his isolated bait shack outside of Bay City, Texas, Bess (1911–1977) painted small canvases that explored a complex system of...

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