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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
American, 1911 - 1977
Untitled 11A
Oil on canvas

17 ¾ x 24 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Duke Energy

Arts of North America

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.