Venus Over Manhattan announces worldwide representation of the Estate of Roy De Forest

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Venus Over Manhattan announces worldwide representation of the Estate of Roy De Forest
Roy De Forest, “Untitled,” 1962. Mixed media on paper, double sided; 23 x 30 in (58.4 x 76.2 cm). © 2020 Roy De Forest Estate / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the Roy De Forest Estate and Venus Over Manhattan, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Venus Over Manhattan announced its worldwide representation of the Estate of Roy De Forest. This news follows the gallery’s critically acclaimed March 2020 survey exhibition, the largest presentation of De Forest’s work in New York City since the artist’s 1975 mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Roy De Forest’s freewheeling vision – his vivid and hallucinatory fantastical voyages, complete with dots and dogs -- made him a hero of the Northern California artistic community for more than fifty years. Born in 1930 to migrant farmers in North Platte, Nebraska, De Forest and his family fled the Dust Bowl for Washington State, where he grew up on the family farm in the lush Yakima Valley, surrounded by farm animals and canine companions. In 1950, De Forest received a scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute), where he studied under Elmer Bischoff and Hassel Smith, artists who encouraged him to challenge the predominance of Abstract Expressionism. De Forest quickly became involved with San Francisco’s nascent Beat community, and supplemented his formal education with seminars, conversations, and exhibitions at venues like the King Ubu and East & West galleries, where he became close with artists like the King Ubu and East & West galleries, where he became close with Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, Jay DeFeo, Wall Hendrick, Jess, and Deborah Remington, among others. An active participant in the boisterous atmosphere fostered by his teachers and peers, De Forest "developed a kind of opposition to [...] quasi-religious attitudes toward painting" and became "skeptical about all the Romanticism and especially the overt conversions people were supposed to go thought." His earliest works feature large skeins of bright color, which he paired with fanciful titles that undercut the heady moralism and spiritual excesses of Abstract Expressionism.

De Forest worked as an art handler at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMoMA), and, following an injury sustained when a Herbert Ferber sculpture fell on him, returned to the Yakima Valley. There, he spent two formative years codifying his signature style, producing dazzling paintings and works on paper, and building a visual vocabulary that recalled his diverse interests, including natural forms like seed pods and protozoa, articles from Scientific American, and beaded tapestries from the indigenous Yakama Nation. De Forest began using acrylic paint, exploiting its adhesive properties in hybrid, wall-hung constructions of wood and found objects, which incorporated animals and figurative imagery for the first time. His trademark dots—Hershey Kiss-like dabs of acrylic squeezed directly from the tube—emerged during this period, and many of his paintings appear to depict aerial views of vast, dotted landscapes. De Forest described these as “more or less what you’d think of when you see a landscape from an airplane.”

De Forest returned to California’s burgeoning artistic community in 1960, and mounted a series of successful solo exhibitions at the legendary Dilexi Gallery. In 1965, he joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis, which became a hotbed of creative experimentation. Alongside his colleagues Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud, and William T. Wiley, De Forest fostered a renaissance of unconventional artistic production, whose exponents called their movement “Nut Art.” Bound chiefly by their joyous, rampant idiosyncrasies, more than twenty artists eventually exhibited under the banner of Nut Art, including De Forest, Arneson, Clayton Bailey, David Gilhooly, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Maija Peeples-Bright, and Karl Wirsum. De Forest’s paintings grew increasingly figurative, featuring his signature menagerie of unusual dogs rendered in a “crazy quilt” style, where pockets of deep space punctuate the picture plane. In 1974, the San Francisco Museum of Art organized a retrospective his work, which traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art the next year.

In the years following his Whitney survey, drawing came to play a more central role in De Forest’s production. He often put painting aside for lengths of time to focus exclusively on drawing. His compositions featured ever more animated canines and figures situated in landscapes that suggest fantasy adventure narratives. Toward the end of the 1980s, De Forest began making complex sculptural frames for his paintings and works on paper that extended his imagery beyond the picture plane, often enhancing the sense of whimsy found in his compositions. Referencing the strategies of his earlier constructions, these frames led to even larger wall-mounted assemblages, culminating in such masterpieces as One Life to Lead (1986), a monumental sculptural work that extends De Forest’s imagery nearly two feet off the wall. Often obscured by the sheer likability of his subject matter and color palette, the dazzling rigor of De Forest’s practice and mastery of technique are only now becoming recognized.

Adam Lindemann remarked: “Roy De Forest is an artist I discovered through his good friend Peter Saul - and I’m thrilled to be able to bring his work into our program. His mixture of high and low, of art history and American folk iconography makes him especially relevant today, when it is so important to look back in order to move forward. I’m proud that his Estate has helped us put this all together and as part of our ongoing program. I believe Roy’s work will continue to engage and inspire a new generation of art lovers.”

Roy De Forest was born in North Platte, Nebraska, in 1930. He attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), and San Francisco State College, where he received his B.A. in 1953, and his M.A. in 1958. His work has been the subject of numerous solo presentations both stateside and abroad, including exhibitions at the Oakland Museum of California; Galerie Darthea Speyer, Paris; ICA Boston; SFMoMA; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Candy Store Gallery, Folsom; and Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco. De Forest’s work is frequently featured in major group exhibitions, including recent presentations at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; RISD Museum, Providence; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work is held in numerous public collections around the world, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch; Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; SFMoMA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. De Forest lived and worked in Port Costa, California, before his death in 2007.

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