Jay DeFeo

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Mary Joan "Jay" DeFeo
Born Mary Joan DeFeo
(1929-03-31)March 31, 1929
Hanover, New Hampshire
Died November 11, 1989(1989-11-11) (aged 60)
Nationality American
Known for Painting

Mary Joan Jay DeFeo (March 31, 1929 – November 11, 1989) was a visual artist associated with the Beat generation who worked c.1950-1989 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Life and work[edit]

Born Mary Joan DeFeo in Hanover, New Hampshire, she came to be known as 'Jay' in high school in San Jose, California. She found a mentor in her high school art teacher, and in 1946 enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. She earned her BA in 1950 and her MA in 1951, both from University of California, Berkeley.[1] She resisted what she called 'the hierarchy of materials', using plaster and mixing media to experiment with effects, a thread one can see running through the art of that time, especially on the West Coast.

She had been exposed to North American native art in her Berkeley studies, thanks to Margaret Peterson O'Hagan; while in France and England she studied African and prehistoric art in Paris and London libraries. After her brief time working in Paris and London, she traveled in Europe and North Africa, and for 6 months worked in Florence, where she started to find her own kind of imagery.[2]

Upon returning to Berkeley she rented an apartment where she continued her exploration with image and materials. In the mid-1950s, she supported herself by making and selling jewelry.[3] She met Wally Hedrick, a student at the California College of Arts and Crafts, whom she married in 1954 and divorced in 1969.[4] Hedrick, Deborah Remington, Hayward King, David Simpson, John Allen Ryan and Jack Spicer founded the Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore St in San Francisco, on the location of the King Ubu Gallery, which had been run by Jess and Robert Duncan. Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, and Bruce Conner would become associates of the Six Gallery. DeFeo was present when Allen Ginsberg first read his poem Howl at the famous Six Gallery reading in 1955.[5] In 1959, DeFeo became an original member of Bruce Conner's Rat Bastard Protective Association [6]

In 1959 DeFeo was included in Dorothy Canning Miller's seminal exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, alongside Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Louise Nevelson.[2] Following this she had a solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.[2]

Her most well-known painting, The Rose (1958–66),[7] took almost eight years to create and weighs more than one ton.[8] The painting is so large that it had to be removed by a forklift from her apartment.[8] The making of The Rose was documented in a short film by Bruce Connor entitled THE WHITE ROSE (1967).[9] After finishing The Rose in 1966, DeFeo took a four year break from creating art.[1]

Throughout her four decades of making art, DeFeo worked extensively making drawings, paintings on paper, photographs, photocopies, collages, photo collages and paintings. In 1980 she became a professor on the faculty of Mills College.[1]

In April 1988 Jay DeFeo was diagnosed with lung cancer.[5] She died on November 11, 1989 at the age of 60.[2]


DeFeo's work is receiving increasing posthumous recognition. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Norton Simon Museum, the art museum of the University of California, Berkeley and Mills College Museum of Art.[10] The Whitney holds the largest public collection of her work and presented a major retrospective from February 28 through June 2, 2013.[11]


The Jay DeFeo Trust, a private foundation, was established under the terms of the will of the artist. The Trust is represented by New York-based gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash,[12] Zurich's Galerie Eva Presenhuber and Hosfelt Gallery in San Francisco.

External links[edit]

  • New Yorker magazine, "The Art World" article called Flower Power: [2]


  1. ^ a b c "Jay DeFeo: About this artist" The Whitney Museum of American Art, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d "Chronology" The Jay DeFeo Trust, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  3. ^ Nichols, Matthew. "Beyond the Rose" Art in America, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  4. ^ [1], Goldberg, Lee, di Rosa Artist Interview Series: Wally Hedrick, 2009, p. 18
  5. ^ a b Cotter, Holland. " 'Jay DeFeo - A Retrospective' at The Whitney" The New York Times, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  6. ^ Its members included Jay DeFeo, Michael McClure, Manuel Neri and Joan Brown. See Rebecca Solnit, ‘Heretical Constellations: Notes on California, 1946–61’, in Sussman, ed., Beat Culture and the New America, 69–122, especially 71.
  7. ^ "Jay DeFeo: The Rose 1958 - 1966". http://whitney.org. Whitney Museum. n.d. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Farago, Jason. "Jay DeFeo" Frieze, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  9. ^ Traps, Yevgeniya. "Romance of the Rose: On Jay DeFeo" The Paris Review, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  10. ^ http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/blogon/view_essay.php/169/jay_de_feo "Jay DeFeo", Ellen Berkovitch, Saatchi Online.
  11. ^ "Exhibitions: Jay DeFeo" The Whitney Museum of American Art, Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  12. ^ Carol Vogel (April 25, 2013), DeFeo Meets New York New York Times.