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Jay DeFeo

American, 1929-1989


Curating Works


Jay DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1929. DeFeo grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and in Colorado, shuttled between her mother and both sets of grandparents. Her interest in art was nurtured by an art teacher in high school. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree (1950) and master’s degree (1951) in art from the University of California, Berkeley. She spent 1951–52 in Europe on a fellowship, traveling and studying prehistoric painting throughout France and Spain and art and architecture of the Renaissance in Florence. While in Florence, she painted prolifically. She returned to the Bay Area and soon after focused on making wire jewelry to earn a living but shifted her attention back to painting a few years later and had her first solo exhibition in 1954. DeFeo began showing her works at galleries in and around San Francisco, and in 1959–60 she was included (as “J. de Feo”) among the most promising up-and-coming artists in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art exhibition Sixteen Americans. In the late 1950s, DeFeo began showing her work at both Ferus (Los Angeles) and Dilexi (San Francisco) galleries; both were major hubs for California avant-garde artists. In 1958 DeFeo began working on her masterpiece, The Rose. She worked for eight years on what resulted in a nearly 11-foot- (3.3-metre-) high and 1,850-pound (839-kilogram) work of art which she created by applying and  scraping off paint until she had built up a floral sculptural relief. The Rose was exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1969, at which point she began painting again after a three-year hiatus. The Rose was acquired by the Whitney Museum in 1995. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA, Whitney, Tate Modern, Aspen Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian, Centre Pompidou, and Denver Art Museum.