Category Archives: California Funk

De Forest Mural ~ 9th & P

This ceramic tile mural on the California Energy Commission building at Ninth & P was created by Roy De Forest (1). The mural is about 60 feet long (2) and is described as a celebration of farming in the Sacramento area (3). I also see elements of Sacramento area history and landscape with the Native American man (top image just above the horse and bottom-left detail image below) and the Sierras in the distance (top-right detail image below).

The contract for this mural was part of the art funding in the Capitol Area Plan (4). De Forest spoke with Lynn Robert Matteson in an oral history interview and described how the tiles were created, given that he hadn’t previously worked with tile:

“I just got a big piece of paper – a big, you know, 10 – 12-foot high paper and got samples of tile by going to Mexico and I got a palette of individual colors of the glazes. So then I mixed up batches of color matches and then the big scenario was in my studio. And then I rolled those up and sent them to Mexico and they had some local artists or peons there or whatever you would call them paint each tile.” (5)

De Forest came to California in the 1950’s to study art and was involved early in the California Funk movement (6). This movement was also called Bay Area Funk or California Myth-Making (7).

[H]is paintings, drawings, and prints evolved into the brilliantly patterned mystical geographies, through which romped his signature dogs, wandering semi-humans and phantasmagoric traveling beasts. These visually compelling canvasses filled larger and more dazzling spaces with gleeful, self-reverent, yet serious and sophisticated images (8)

On a visit to SFMOMA several years ago, we happened to buy a small print of a De Forest painting and it demonstrates the dog-themed works that he is most known for:

“Country Dog Gentlemen” by Roy De Forest, Art © Estate of Roy De Forest/Licensed by VAGA, NY, NY

“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.” (9)

The mural below is installed in the San Francisco airport and uses an entirely different color palate but some similar imagery as the Ninth & P mural.

Homage to Zane Gray; 1978

More images of De Forest’s works are available on artnet and on the John Natsoulas site.

Title: (unknown)
Artist: Roy De Forest
Date: Unknown
Media: Painted Ceramic Tile
Location: 1516 Ninth Street

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VandenBerge Mural ~ 4th & K

This hand-made glazed-tile mural sits along a wall at the west end of the Downtown Plaza mall, just before the covered walkway leading to Old Sac. The mural was created by local artist, Peter VandenBerge (1).

VandenBerge attended CSUS in 1954, UCD in 1963, and was a graduate student of Robert Arneson (2). He started teaching at CSUS in 1973 and worked there until he retired (3).

From what I saw online, it seems the great body of VandenBerge’s work is in clay sculpture — most often whimsical & eclectic human figures or fruits and vegetables.

Carolina Arts Publication image
Saturday Night at the Movies, circa 1970. ASU Art Museum image
Ace, 2007. Photo: David M. Roth

So this mural might be somewhat unique among his work.

He was part of the California funk ceramics tradition of the ’60s and ’70s which began in San Francisco:

California funk was one of the first ceramics movements to draw influences from counterculture influences like the beat movement and psychedelia while using ceramics to challenge conventional thinking (4).

The funk tradition drew criticism for its non-serious nature:

East Coast critics who were unfamiliar (or else hostile) to the comic spirit of the West Coast Funk tradition . . . wondered aloud if his work was confused. To that the sculptor asks, “Can’t one be serious and funny?” (5)

Independent of what his pieces ‘mean’ or what they evoke, his primary concern in the studio is the simple “pulling and pushing and punching of clay – the physical act of working it to see what I’m going to come up with next.” (6)

Title: (unknown)
Artist: Peter VandenBerge
Date: 1979/1980
Media: Glazed Tiles
Location: 4th & K

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(3) Art in the San Francisco Bay area 1945-1980: an illustrated history, by Thomas Albright