Where the Wild Things Are
In a review of Roy De Forest's last art exhibit in New York, just two years before his death in 2007, New York Times art critic Roberta Smith wrote, "If Mr. De Forest's goal is to transfer the ecstatic experience of the world from his creature-subjects to his creature-viewers, it has never been more clearly or radiantly stated."
"Country Dog Gentlemen," like so many of the brightly colored fantasies De Forest (B.A., '53; M.A., '58) captured on canvas, has been charming creature viewers for nearly four decades at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA ), where it remains one of the museum's most popular paintings.
"De Forest liked dogs, beady-eyed, tongue-lolling dogs," explains Associate Professor of Art Julia Marshall in a teacher's guide for a 2007 exhibit of De Forest's work. "Repeated over and over in his many paintings, they are like a running joke, a crazy nonlinear story that continues from one picture to the next. These pictures are visually striking and fun to look at and De Forest always claimed that they were fun to make. That's why he did them."
But why the dogs? De Forest, never one to overanalyze his creations, told Seattle Times art critic Robin Updike, "Miro said he didn't want to explain what his paintings were about because it takes the fun out of it. It's true."
De Forest carved out his own artistic niche, rejecting the abstract expressionist attitude that prevailed during his early career. In a 2004 interview for the Archives of American Art at The Smithsonian Institute, De Forest credited SF State Professor of Art John Gutmann with "having that influence on me … it occurred to me like Paul Klee, it didn't really matter too much, you know, what mood that you were laying down … as long as you did it really well."
De Forest once remarked that there isn't "more an artist can hope for than to find an audience, however small." Today his waggish work continues to find new fans in exhibits across the United States, and online.
Earlier this year SFMOMA put De Forest's canines to work as virtual docents. "The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds," a multimedia feature that teaches visitors about artworks in the museum's collection, is accessible at SFMOMA kiosks and online at countrydogs.sfmoma.org
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