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Build Your Own Dystopia: The Phosphorescence of Roy De Forest

Updated: Nov 17


Last month ARTContent Editions limited explored the imagined landscape with the Maps of Paula Scher.This week we shift gears from cartography to an entirely different form of landscape representation through a collection of artworks by Roy De Forest...

Birdland (1993)

by Roy De Forest

32” x 38” 

Lithograph in 6 Colors

Trial Proof Available for Acquisition


Build Your Own Dystopia:  The Phosphorescence of Roy De Forest


Throughout the history of art, from one movement to the next, it cannot be denied that artwork has been anything if not reactive. 


Millet’s The Gleaners offered a sympathetic gaze at rigorous and harsh rural realities. Contrastingly, fleeting moments were embraced by the likes of Monet, Pissaro and Degas as Impressionism paved the way, in new light and without precision. Meticulous markings played with optics as Seurat’s pointillism set a new tone on a Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte…And as time went on, the symbolic became expressive; the subdued was set ablaze through splotches of vivid chroma; the representational was shattered into abstraction. You know, the history of modern art. 

It can be argued that art in its pictorial and sensory mediums, has always offered the artist’s ideology of some Utopia or Dystopia. And who are artists, but people. And who are people, but dreamers, reacting to their existence in a very particular milieu. Utopia and Dystopia are opposite and distinct places, yet forever contingent on each other’s sheer existence for individual growth and survival. Still, they share a likeness in extremes and in fantastic landscapes, those which exist merely as fragments of an active imagination. 


Perhaps no one has shown more imagination in recent decades than Roy De Forest, who once described art as, “One of the last strongholds of magic;” an apt observation for an artist whose apex could be seen as simultaneous to the post-modern climate of minimalist representations in contemporary art of the 1970s. John Fitz — a dear friend of the artist — spoke of De Forest’s landscapes as, “Dream path[s] to a strange, unknown land.” 


At times disjunctive but always magisterial, the depth of De Forest’s oeuvres is achieved in their quixotic quality; devoid of hubris yet relentless in the opulence of excess. De Forest was able to achieve in his often anthropomorphizing canvases a paradise lost, or perhaps, never found: his own brand of humour and whimsy in an irrepressible fantasy. While De Forest’s artwork has always been welcomed with wonderment, at times reactions to his scenes default to the prototype of childlike naiveté. It is here, that we return to the notion that lightness cannot exist without darkness and again, what is Utopia without Dystopia? Perhaps, not only do these universes co-exist on opposite planes, but thrive in a single setting. In the phosphorescence of de Forest’s landscapes exists a darkness that goes beyond an understanding of colour theory or the yearning for a dream. 

Our current climate comes to mind as we navigate the discrepancies between our various ideologies at war, the imminent threat of physical danger, and life — as we know it — on hold for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, history tells us there will be a reaction; be that to the literal representational forms in contemporary art as we know it, or to the system we once knew. What’s for certain is that an escape in foes and follies awaits us. Until then, we have Roy De Forest.


Essay by Suzy Sabla Vice President of Creative Marketing, AEL


Limited Edition Prints from the Archives: I Remember It As If It Were Yesterday

We have enjoyed revisiting the vaults to celebrate some of our most historically successful projects. In 1993, AEL Founder Frans Wynans worked directly with Roy De Forest to commission and produce a series of six limited edition prints. 

All Roy De Forest prints can be viewed here.

A Longing to Hold: A Collection of Ephemera from ARTContent


A rare look at some of Roy De Forest's sketches circa 1993. 


Roy De Forest at Emily Carr Studio of Art & Design proofing Moe Travels (1993)

Colour Proofing at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (1993)


The world of Roy in all things Roy; a collection of handheld gems.

Remembering Roy De Forest:

A Human Imagination Incarnate

To know and understand Roy’s artwork is to know and understand Roy. He was human imagination incarnate. His artworks are populated with a menagerie of creatures – some identifiably of this world, others inhabitants of some purely imaginary land, all living narrative lives in some unbounded territory between reality and magic. In addition to the wonder and joy of his imagery, Roy was known as an artist’s artist. He constantly found new ways to apply paint/pigment/mark to paper/canvas/wood. To view one of his paintings or drawings is to enlarge one’s understanding of the fundamental act of artistic mark-making. A line traced along a French curve becomes a canoe; a series of squiggly black crayon marks on a yellow field above a silhouette of a face becomes a 1920’s flapper hairdo in a lithograph. Roy took great delight in artmaking – in the power of images and in the nature of artistic creation. That delight and totally artistic engagement is present in his work as whimsy bonded to meaning created in joy. 


- Mike Henderson, Harvey Himelfarb, Gina Werfel (UC Davis)


Roy Lives On In The Stars & Beyond:  Current Exhibition at Venus Over Manhattan


Venus Over Manhattan is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Roy De Forest, organized in collaboration with the Roy De Forest Estate. Following the recent retrospective of his work, “Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest,” organized by Susan Landauer at the Oakland Museum of California, the exhibition marks the largest presentation of De Forest’s work in New York since 1975, when the Whitney Museum of American Art staged a retrospective dedicated to his work. 

To Visit the Online Viewing Room Click Here 

Roy De Forest at Venus Over Manhattan Featured in the New York Times

“Since the 1990s, we in New York have had a chance to grasp the greatness, largely through gallery exhibitions, of several artists formerly known as regionalist […] De Forest has not been entirely invisible over these years but this big show is, even online, irrefutable evidence of his stature.”

- Roberta Smith


Thank you to everyone that has stayed in touch with us during this time. And as we say around here...stay safe and stay sane! 


For All Other Inquiries Click Here


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