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Roy De Forest (American, 1930-2007)

Recollections of a Sword Swallower, 1968

Recollections of a Sword Swallower, 1968

Polymer and glitter on canvas 62 1/4 in. x 62 1/2 in. (158.12 cm x 158.75 cm)

Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from the Maude T. Pook Acquisition Fund


  • Roy De Forest’s Recollections of a Sword Swallower was inspired by the life story and photographs in sword swallower Daniel P. Mannix’s autobiography Memoirs of a Sword Swallower.1 In his approach to humor and development of autobiographical work using a highly personal visual vocabulary, De Forest figures prominently among the Funk artists. His paintings often included alter-ego depictions, and he frequently used dogs to stand for himself. Most distinctive is his application of paint and what became known as “dots in candy-kiss relief.” These result from acrylic paint squeezed directly from the tube onto the canvas, and their origin began with De Forest’s early artistic forays into Abstract Expressionism. Beginning in 1958, while he was completing his M.F.A., short strokes of pigment, applied with either the palette knife or brush, appeared in his oil paintings and mixed-media experiments on paper. By 1965, when he became a lecturer, and thereafter a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, De Forest and his “candy-kiss” technique were well known. Aside from the flattened, cartoonish appearance of his figures, especially the silhouettes in this painting, De Forest enjoyed the naïve effect of his quite skilled production. To this he added parody, frequently using animals instead of humans in his figuration. Consistent throughout De Forest’s creation are bright, riotous displays of color. In his paintings and drawings, he used every manner of acrylic paint, marker, colored pencil, canvas, paper, and even glitter, as in this instance. Over time, his decorative treatments extended to painted frames designed specifically to accompany each work.

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