Untitled 11A

Forrest Bess1958

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

With its acid palette and claustrophobic horizon, this painting captures the sense of primal creation Forrest Bess sought in his work. "I felt it had something to do with a lonely beach," he wrote. "The sharp pointed shapes brought to mind driftwood—the silhouette of driftwood on a beach."

The son of an itinerant oil laborer, Bess grew up in the oil fields of East Texas. Living and working outside the mainstream art community, he developed a body of paintings unique in their visionary potency and abstract simplicity. In 1946, after several years in the Army Corps of Engineers, he suffered an emotional breakdown and began to experience frequent visions. He recorded them at first on a notepad by his bedside, then on canvas. These visions were often simple abstract forms or combinations of forms that appeared to Bess as symbols he called ideograms. Using small canvases and a limited palette, he documented these symbols of his unconscious without, as he claimed, any reinterpretation.

The clarity and simplicity of Untitled 11A, and the manner in which it was painted, belie the complexity of its significance for Bess. This painting stands at the forefront of his visionary evocations of land, sea, and sky.

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  • Title: Untitled 11A
  • Creator: Forrest Bess
  • Date: 1958
  • Physical Dimensions: w61 x h45.1 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by Duke Energy