Roy De Forest Biography

Roy De Forest




Roy Dean De Forest, painter, printmaker, sculptor, and educator, was born to Oma and Roy H. De Forest on 11 February 1930 in North Platte, Nebraska. His childhood was spent in Nebraska, Colorado, California, and eastern Washington State. De Forest studied at the Yakima Junior College where he received his associate degree in math and humanities in 1950.

In 1950, De Forest moved to California to study at the California School of Fine Arts [now the San Francisco Art Institute], where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953. After serving in the US Army, he went on to earn his master’s degree in 1958 from San Francisco State College [now San Francisco State University]. De Forest served in the position of director of the Larsen Gallery at Yakima Junior College between 1958 and 1960. He returned to California and taught at Contra Costa Junior College in San Pablo between 1960 and 1961; San Francisco State College between 1961 and 1962; and the California College of Arts and Crafts between 1963 and 1965. He joined the art faculty at the University of California Davis in 1965, became an assistant professor in 1967, and was made a full professor of paintings and drawings in 1974. De Forest retired from teaching in 1992.

Roy De Forest’s abstract work of the early 1950s was deeply influenced by the atmosphere of the California School of Fine Arts. He attended seminars given Hassel Smith alongside fellow students Madeleine Diamond, Julius Wasserstein, Sonia Gechtoff and Deborah Remington. De Forest gathered with these artists and James Kelly at James Budd Dixon’s storefront studio on Lombard Street in San Francisco. Dixon was a major influence on these second-generation Abstract Expressionists.

De Forest moved away from Abstract Expressionism and was among a group of artists working in Northern California in the 1960s who rejected New York and all they regarded as mainstream art. During this decade, Roy De Forest, William T. Wiley, Robert Arneson, Wayne Thiebaud, and Manuel Neri joined the faculty of the University of California Davis and they changed the perception of art in California. The group was labelled California Funk or Bay Area Funk but De Forest rejected the idea of being pigeonholed.

He was a member of the San Francisco Art Association and served as chairman of the artists counsel in 1964. In 1972, De Forest received a National Endowment for the Arts Award and, in 1974, a retrospective exhibition of his work originated at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art the following year. Roy De Forest’s work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Oakland Museum of California Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California; the San José Museum of Art, California; the Palmer Museum, Penn State University, University Park; and the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Roy Dean De Forest died in Vallejo, California on 18 May 2007.

Colleague Mike Henderson reflected on his friend: "To personally encounter Roy was - not unlike viewing his artwork - a unique experience - always surprising, always amazing. He had a gentle demeanor coupled to an incisive intelligence; a great generosity of spirit matched by an amazing capacity for spontaneity, and a warm open smile that hinted at untold imaginative secrets. He was a wonderful artist, a giving teacher, a truly genuine colleague, and an American original."