At Bay City


1st day

Daniel is waiting for the bus to take him to Houston. We part and then I get my studio set in North Sixty Motel, rearranging the furniture on a filthy wall-to-wall carpet so as to keep one corner of the room free for the pictures I want to paint. On my first tour I come across a paint-shop and by chance the proprietor was the owner of a cabin on the Bayou, directly opposite of Bess’s cabin. Bess had build himself a cabin on a plot of land, which could only be reached by boat and he used a wooden hull of a boat upside down and various waste materials. The name of this magic place is Chinquipan named after the canibal aborigines. It is situated on the gulf, 20 km south of Bay City. I need a map!


2nd day

On a straight wide dust-road I drive past fields and meadows to the bait camp in Chinquipan. I can see ponds first, then marshes, a large muddy brown lake, an open sky, brightest brilliant blue. I finally come to the Bayou at the mouth of which is a camp of weekend-cabins, each cabin on posts. On Forrest Bess’s plot of land, which I observe accross the river, cows are grasing. A wooden pole marks the place where the cabin used to be, before hurricane Carla in 1962 washed it away in a flood-wave twelve meters high.

After one hour of meditative starring I begin to wonder on hardly visible moor-baths and I come accross an impressive rattlesnake basking in the sun. The sight of which slighter raises the level of my adrenalin.

I want to go back to town but on turning the car I notice a man in a boat, apparently the only inhabitant of the camp. I leave the car for a short chat. He is about to go fishing and do I want to accompany him. We cruise the meandering river at high speed towards a lake. Here we anchor and begin to fish. There are many hungry cat-fish around and we are able to catch quiet a number. Wyatt tells me nothing about himself and in the silent tension as we fish, I imagine that very probably Forrest Bess caught the ancestors of our fish at the same place. Exhausted by the sun I return to my „cave“, Melvin Epstein calls on me and he shows me a plot of land just around the corner with Forrest Bess’s mother’s house. This is where Forrest Bess spent his last years. Obviously, I have choosen the right district among seven possible districts in the town.


3rd day

I paint a variation in colour of Forrest Bess „Here is a Sign“ and at the same time my own adequate sign „Drumstick“. The unfinished canvas is drying on the balcony, suddenly a gust of wind lifts is up and hurls it to the ground. There is a crease in the canvas now. „Is here a sign?“, I can feel a presence. Competitive energy is flowing through me as a painter with two identities. Used to a studio, I struggle with „my“ picture, yet also with „his“. The aestetic problem becomes an existential problem.


4th day

The beginnings of my research in the county-museum are chaotic. The lady in charge seems overburden although we had arranged a date the day before, and the historian soon turns out to be incompetent on the subject Bess. Several aged female and male volunteers are in the office of the museum, producing a constant chatter, I am presented with packs of newspaper clippings. A chaotic load of useless information is poured on me. I try to remain patient and eventually Mrs. Boo Neary arrives, a lady with an overview. She is able to supply a few usefull fotos from the archive, she gives me names and telephone-numbers etc. After two hours we leave the mueseum and Boo shows Forrest Bess’s last studio to me, an A-frame house in downtown Bay City.

She then takes me to Jim Wilford, the hair-dresser, who with his partner Harry Burkhart was a close friend and collector of Bess’s. They invite me to the country club for lunch.


5th day

Empty canvas-syndrom: Painful perplexity, and I doubt the sense of my project to paint a Suit-Case-Piece as a biographical hommage to Forrest Bess. For fresh air I step onto the balcony my glance drifts to the heavy rain clouds in the sky, to the trees, to the corn silos. I can see several large store houses across the street, one behind the other. One of them bears a sign that says „Faith Temple“. „Faith“ gives me faith and goes with „Bait“, the name of Forrest Bess’s boat. I start to paint the green shape of the store-house and the word faith. And then, full of energy I paint the three most important telephone-numbers for communication on to another canvas, thereby combining my painting-project with my research-project.



Aus: Johanes Zechner, „At Bay City.“, in Johanes Zechner, Atopia – Die Reise, Kunstverein für Kärnten, Klagenfurt 1999