Master of the Parallel Universe
In the 1960s, Roy De Forest labeled the work he and several of his colleagues in the UC Davis Art Department made “Nut Art”—a term that captured their love of satire, invented personas, and extreme conceptualism.
De Forest described the Nut artist as “an eccentric, peculiar individual” and said that his artistic motivation was to build “a miniature world into which the nut could retire with all his friends, animals, and paraphernalia. The little world inside becomes a ‘completely fitted-out’ phantasmagoria.”
This vision of alternate worlds will soon be on view in Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest, an exhibition organized by guest curator Susan Landauer and Christina Linden, OMCA associate curator of painting and sculpture. Those worlds take many forms: some are colorful landscapes populated by wild-eyed dogs, others suggest journeys by plane or boat, and a good many seem to serve as portals into De Forest’s own childhood memories.
Raised mostly in Yakima, Washington, De Forest was deeply attached to and influenced by his mother, whose quilt making is often referred to in his assemblage work and paintings. His profound affection for dogs also dates back to his childhood, as does his love of “low-brow” source material, including kitschy objects and pulpy imagery.
Organized thematically, Of Dogs and Other People welcomes visitors into De Forest’s many worlds: one section, called “Patchwork Daydreams,” features quilt-inspired work; another, called “Down the Rabbit Hole,” includes paintings that allude to children’s fantasy literature such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. “A Walking I Will Go” takes viewers into canine-filled dreamscapes, while “Flashback” offers some of the artist’s trippiest, most psychedelic works.
Landauer suggests that De Forest’s hyperindividualism comes out of the historical moment in which he was working. At the time, many artists felt confined by the pervasive conformity of the Cold War era, and De Forest and his colleagues reacted by creating highly idiosyncratic and autobiographical art. “He worked in a space in his own mind,” Landauer says, “inventing personal universes that stood in direct opposition to the conventions of the McCarthy period.”
In her introduction to the exhibition’s catalog, OMCA Director and CEO Lori Fogarty observes that few artists can match De Forest for his “sense of joy, wonder, and even wackiness.” And now, as OMCA presents the first major exhibition of De Forest’s work in 40 years, visitors can share in that unbridled joy. “He blazed his own trail of pleasure, humor, and imagination,” Fogarty writes, “and brought everyone along for the ride.”
Roy De Forest, In the Horse Latitudes, 1960. Mixed media construction, 28" x 32". Collection of Lynn and Ron Robie. Art © Estate of Roy De Forest/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Unknown photographer, Roy De Forest with his painting The Taylor Brothers in the Great North Woods, ca. Galerie Darthea Speyer records, 1953-2010. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; Kurt Edward Fishback, Portrait of Roy De Forest with Ratu and Dido, © 1980 Kurt Edward Fishback