Roy De Forest

Last updated
Roy De Forest
BornFebruary 11, 1930
DiedMay 18, 2007(2007-05-18) (aged 77)
Nationality American
Education San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University
Known forPainting, Sculpture
Movement Funk art, Nut art
Awards National Endowment for the Arts Award

Roy De Forest (11 February 1930 – 18 May 2007) was an American painter, sculptor, and teacher. He was involved in both the Funk art and Nut art movements in the Bay Area of California. De Forest's art is known for its quirky and comical fantasy lands filled with bright colors and creatures, most commonly dogs.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Painting practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Sculpture Branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions

Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving and modelling, in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded or cast.


Early life

Roy De Forest was born in North Platte, Nebraska to migrant farm workers during the Great Depression. De Forest's family lost their farm in Nebraska due to the harsh economic conditions during the Great Depression and were forced to move to Yakima, Washington. In Yakima, the De Forests bought a new farm, where they harvested pears and plums. De Forest described the socioeconomic status of his family as "not well off." Farm life had an important impact on De Forest's art. In his early art, De Forest experimented with landscape, which was inspired by the open land of his farm. Later in his career, De Forest began painting animals and other fantasy creatures in his art, which was inspired by growing up around farm animals. [1]

North Platte, Nebraska City in Nebraska, United States

North Platte is a city in and the county seat of Lincoln County, Nebraska, United States. It is located in the southwestern part of the state, along Interstate 80, at the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers forming the Platte River. The population was 24,733 at the 2010 census.

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late-1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

Yakima, Washington City in Washington, United States

Yakima is a city in and the county seat of Yakima County, Washington, and the state's eleventh-largest city by population. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 91,067 and a metropolitan population of 243,231. The unincorporated suburban areas of West Valley and Terrace Heights are considered a part of greater Yakima.


De Forest attended Yakima Junior College, where his interest in art and art history developed. He initially was an engineering major, but soon realized that art came more naturally to him. In 1950 he moved to California to study at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) on scholarship, where he earned a bachelor's degree (1953).[2] After serving in the US Army as a sign painter, De Forest went on to earn his master's degree (1958) at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University). [1]

San Francisco Art Institute university

San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) is a private, non-profit college of contemporary art with the main campus in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, California. Its graduate center is in Fort Mason on Pier 2 in the Golden Gate National Recreation Center which originally was an army post. Approximately 400 undergraduates and 200 graduate students are enrolled. The institution is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD).

San Francisco State University university in San Francisco, California

San Francisco State University is a public university in San Francisco. As part of the 23-campus California State University system, the university offers 118 different bachelor's degrees, 94 master's degrees, 5 doctoral degrees, along with 26 teaching credentials among six academic colleges.

Teaching career

After graduating from San Francisco State University, De Forest got his first teaching job at Yakima Junior College and spent two years teaching there. After this, he moved around from job to job for a short period of time, teaching children's classes in Oakland, California. He also taught night classes at the Bay Area prison, San Quentin. Here, he worked in the Adjustment Center, which later became death row. De Forest described his time teaching in San Quentin as extremely interesting and greatly influential on his teaching. [1]

Oakland, California City in California, United States

Oakland is the largest city and the county seat of Alameda County, California, United States. A major West Coast port city, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, the third largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth most populated city in California, and the 45th largest city in the United States. With a population of 425,195 as of 2017, it serves as a trade center for the San Francisco Bay Area; its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of Northern California, and the fifth busiest in the United States of America. An act to incorporate the city was passed on May 4, 1852, and incorporation was later approved on March 25, 1854, which officially made Oakland a city. Oakland is a charter city.

De Forest started working for a young UC Davis Art Department in 1965. He was originally hired as a lecturer but worked his way up to assistant professor and eventually full professor in 1974. At UC Davis, De Forest worked with fellow artists Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley. On the occasion of the exhibit "You See: The Early Years of the UC Davis Art Faculty," Renny Pritikin of the Nelson Gallery said "History was made in the Central Valley in the early '60s when five great artists came together on the same faculty for over a decade and changed the nature and perception of art in California forever." [2] De Forest taught at UC Davis for twenty-seven years before retiring in 1992. [3]

Robert Arneson American artist

Robert Carston Arneson was an American sculptor and professor of ceramics in the Art department at UC Davis for nearly three decades.

Manuel Neri American artist

Manuel Neri is an American sculptor who is recognized for his life-size figurative sculptures in plaster, bronze, and marble. In Neri's work with the figure, he conveys an emotional inner state that is revealed through body language and gesture. Since 1965 his studio has been in Benicia, California; in 1981 he purchased a studio in Carrara, Italy, for working in marble. During the past four decades, Neri has worked primarily with the same model, Mary Julia Klimenko, creating drawings and sculptures that merge contemporary concerns with Modernist sculptural forms.

Wayne Thiebaud American artist

Wayne Thiebaud is an American painter widely known for his colorful works depicting commonplace objects—pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries, and hot dogs—as well as for his landscapes and figure paintings. Thiebaud is associated with the pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his early works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work.

Art career

De Forest's first exhibition was in 1955, and the work reflected the influence of Abstract Expressionism, along with a developing interest in assemblage. [4] He continued to submit paintings and other forms of art in exhibitions for over fifty years until his death in 2007.

Assemblage (art) art form and technique

Assemblage is an artistic form or medium usually created on a defined substrate that consists of three-dimensional elements projecting out of or from the substrate. It is similar to collage, a two-dimensional medium. It is part of the visual arts, and it typically uses found objects, but is not limited to these materials.

Artists groups/movements

During the 1960s, UC Davis became a hub for the Funk art movement, with many of the artists associated with this movement either teaching at Davis, or having studied there. De Forest, along with Arneson, Wiley, and David Gilhooly often exhibited together under this heading, including semi-regular shows at the Candy Store Gallery in nearby Folsom, California. Another important figure in the Funk art movement was Clayton Bailey, who was De Forest's neighbor, friend, and collaborator.

De Forest, along with Bailey, was also a key figure in the development of Nut art, a new artistic genre that paralleled Funk art, and which flourished primarily in the late 1960s and early 1970s in northern California. The term Nut art was coined by De Forest (in conversation with poet and critic David Zack) to describe an approach to art making that embraced humor and personalized fantasy worlds.


Untitled (Devils/Dogs) by Roy De Forest, 1989-90, acrylic, pastel and charcoal on paper in artist's frame, Honolulu Museum of Art Roy De Forest - 'Untitled (Devils, Dogs)', 1989-90, Honolulu Museum of Art.JPG
Untitled (Devils/Dogs) by Roy De Forest, 1989–90, acrylic, pastel and charcoal on paper in artist's frame, Honolulu Museum of Art

De Forest claims that "the aspect of invention in painting is the major factor in what you would call my style of painting." [1] De Forest rejected traditional styles of painting. He claimed that "rather than, say, taking an image and then finding a way to express it in paint, sometimes I think about how to use a paint and then find an image that fits it." [1] De Forest's style depicts journeys to fantasy lands filled with creatures, some familiar, some not. These lands were quirky, comical, and crowded, filled with texturized, hallucinogen colors. He describes himself as an "obscure visual constructor of mechanical delights." [5]

De Forest believed in having a great amount of variety in paintings. He believed that everything in a painting should differ in size, shape, etc. De Forest rejected bilateral symmetry, instead preferring randomness. An example of this are the dots he adds in his work, which have become sort of a trademark these dots are a trademark of his art. [6]

De Forest is most known for the use of animals and fantasy creatures in his art, in particular, dogs. He became inspired to use animals in his artwork because he grew up on a farm and was constantly surrounded by dogs, cows, horses and other animals. He enjoyed adding creatures into his art because they reminded him of his past. De Forest believed that these animals also made his paintings more fun to make. [3]

De Forest's work grew more representational as his career continued, and began to include suggestions of maps and motifs evocative of persons and animals as his career continued. By the late 1960s this transformation was nearly complete, as De Forest's work now freely mixed patterns and non-objective elements along with recognizable forms such as people, landscapes, and most notably, animals. [4]

Towards the end of his life, De Forest's work also began to reflect his surroundings and life in Port Costa, California, with elements such as old brick buildings, birds, and dogs becoming more commonplace in his compositions. [4]

As the physical forms in De Forest's work grew more recognizable, the origins and relationships between such grew more personal, suggestive of dream worlds and developing personal mythologies.

Overall, Roy De Forest is best known for his comic-like patchwork regionalist (California) style, often depicting dogs and other figurative content in his art. His painting, Untitled (Devils/Dogs) from 1989-1990 in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art is typical of this style, and like many of his paintings, De Forest made the frame as well.


Early in De Forest's art career he used standard oil paint to make landscape paintings. Later, in a deliberate attempt to move away from abstract expressionism, De Forest stopped using oil paint and began using different mixtures of water-based paint. This does not allow the color of his paintings to blend as it would with oil paint. He sometimes used cheap oil paint as well to get his desired rough, scorched textures. [1]

Though primarily known as a painter, De Forest worked in other mediums as well, including sculpture, printmaking, and fabric. Several of his assemblage pieces, in addition to a few paintings, are in the diRosa collection.

Notable works of art

Brothers Under the Feathers, 1962

Frère Jacques, 1963

Dog Lamp, 1970

Country Dog Gentlemen, 1972 [7]

Canis Prospectus, 1986

Personal life

De Forest had two children, a son named Pascal and a daughter, Orianna. Pascal, following the tradition of his father, majored in art at San Francisco State University. He has three sisters; Beth, Beverly, and Lynn. [8]

Later Years

De Forest lived his latter years in Port Costa, California, surrounded by open land filled with dogs, cattle, and birds. De Forest died May 18, 2007 in Vallejo, California after a short illness. [5]

Select public collections



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    1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Oral history interview with Roy De Forest, 2004 April 7-June 30, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution".Missing or empty |url= (help)
    2. "You See: The Early Years of The UC Davis Art Faculty".
    3. 1 2 Henderson, Mike; Himelfarb, Harvey; Werfel, Gina. "In Memoriam". The University of California. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
    4. 1 2 3 Albright, Thomas (1985). Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1845-1980 : [an illustrated history]. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. p. 243. ISBN   0-520-05518-7.
    5. 1 2 Smith, Roberta (May 23, 2007). Roy De Forest, 77, Painter of Colorful, Comic Scenes, Dies. New York Times
    6. "KTBlue. "Who Let the Dogs Out: The Art of Roy De Forest." Museum Masters. N.p., 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016".Missing or empty |url= (help)
    7. "Roy De Forest, Country Dog Gentlemen, 1972". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Estate of Roy De Forest / Licensed by VAGA, New York.Missing or empty |url= (help)
    8. ""Artist Roy De Forest Dies." UC Davis. N.p., 2007. Web. 24 April 2016".Missing or empty |url= (help)
    9. 1 2 "Roy De Forest". George Adams Gallery. Retrieved 1 May 2016.