Artwork by Roy De Forest
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About the Artist
(1930-2007) "Roy De Forest became a painter of work not easily categorized because of his independent approach to the profession. He has evolved through several styles from abstraction to funk to realism with subjects ranging from non-objective to realistic animals. His early work was comprised of larger, overlapping, amorphous shapes in bright colors with detailed patterns within.
However, a consistent philosophy for his mature work has been irreverence for academic convention and a joy in being creative and finding his own way. In his paintings, he expresses a personal pleasure in how own fantasies from which he constructs "hypothetical beings, situations and worlds". The intent is to "preserve this possible world, with all its animals and creatures, for my own private viewing, fun and enjoyment."
Roy De Forest was born in North Platte, Nebraska in 1930, but was raised from the time he was in the third grade in Yakima, Washington Central Washington where he enrolled in 1948 in Yakima Junior College as an engineering major. However, he turned away from his original intent, realizing his talents were much more oriented towards art.
In 1950, he relocated to San Francisco to attend the California School of Fine Arts from 1950-1952. At that school, he was exposed to a variety of influences, especially Abstract Expressionism and Bay Area Figurative. Visiting artists and faculty members included Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Hassel Smith and Ansel Adams. Among his peers as students were Joan Broan, Deborah Remington, Richard Diebenkorn and Frank Lobdell.
Of special influence was Clyfford Still, who had a charismatic personality and who advocated freedom and independence in painting underpinned by intellectuality. According to De Forest, Still said: "I do not want students to imitate my work but only my example of freedom and independence from all external, decadent and corrupting influences." Another strong influence on De Forest was Hassel Smith, who advocated that a painter was a philosopher whose expression required thinking---much more than just sheer emotion as advocated by the Abstract Expressionists.
From these experiences plus many other considerations, De Forest developed his own ideas, which eventually deviated from Still and the regarding of art as a kind of religion that involved truth, romanticism and conversion---the saving of souls. He also rebelled by giving up the thick application of oil, a painterly method so prevalent among Still and his followers. Instead De Forest developed his surfaces with thin paint, often applied as small dots to saturate the surface. Another rebellion was using bright colors and humor including mixed-media found objects, a real 'no no' at the California School where painting was regarded as 'all serious'.
In 1953 De Forest earned a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State College, and then served two years in the army. He also began exhibiting his work in a number of venues in the Bay Area including a one-person show at the East and West Gallery. Five years later, he earned a Master's Degree and a teaching certificate from San Francisco State College. He became increasingly interested in a wide variety of artists including Piet Mondrian and his optimism and more traditional sources of American art such as George Caleb Bingham and Edward Hicks. From familiarity with these and other artists, he said: "I realized that the idea that Abstract Expressionism was the first great American tradition was hogwash."
In 1958 he took a teaching job at Yakima Junior College, and began doing what he regarded as some of his first signature painting, many of them landscapes executed with the viewer perspective of seeing them from an airplane. In the 1960's he began adding figures to his landscapes---all the time experimenting with perspective and utilizing elements of both abstraction and realism. Later he incorporated animals, which eventually became the "main characters" in his paintings. He said his dog imagery derives in part from "my search for a new way to approach the figurative tradition." In other words, it was the application of the figurative tradition to animals.
From 1962 to 1982 De Forest was a professor of art at the University of California at Davis. His colleagues included Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson and William T. Wiley. Each of these artists was independent and achieved strong reputations, which much enhanced Davis as an art school. However, some critics tried to lump them together stylistically, which is inaccurate. Certainly some of the most accurate ongoing descriptions of De Forest are the words 'Independent' and 'unique'. Of his work, Henry Hopkins, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, said: "De Forest is his own painter; that subject matter, that method of painting---that's not anybody's school." appropriated from AskArt.com, contributed by the Sheldon Museum of Art