Works by Jay DeFeo at Sotheby's
Jay DeFeo Biography
Painter, sculptor, and jewelry maker Jay DeFeo was born Mary Joan DeFeo in Hanover,
New Hampshire, in 1929, but was raised predominantly in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She showed an interest in art as a teenager, which was fostered by her high school art
teacher, and she ultimately went on to study art at the University of California, Berkeley,
where she earned her BA and MA in 1950 and 1951 respectively. She was granted a
fellowship shortly after completing her graduate studies, allowing her to spend a year and
a half in Europe (between 1951 and 1952) to study prehistoric painting in France and
Spain, as well as architecture and Renaissance art in Italy, specifically Florence.
Upon her return to the Bay Area, DeFeo began making and selling wire jewelry to
support herself, but her focus eventually returned wholly to painting. She had her first
solo exhibition in San Francisco in 1954, which was followed by numerous exhibitions of
her work throughout the city, leading finally to her representation at both Ferus gallery in
Los Angeles and Dilexie gallery in San Francisco. She was included in the Museum of
Modern Art, New York, exhibition Sixteen Americans in 1959–60.
In 1958, DeFeo began work on what would arguably become her most famous
work, The Rose, which would take her eight years to create. At its core a painting, but
weighing 1,850 pounds and measuring almost 11 feet high, she created the work by
meticulously applying and scraping off paint, resulting in a type of painted sculptural
relief. The Rose was first exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1969, but was
eventually acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1995.
Following the completion of The Rose, DeFeo took a three-year hiatus before
returning to painting, and later took up photography. She was given a teaching position at
Mills College, Oakland, in 1981, where she taught until her death in 1989. Although her
oeuvre fell into relative obscurity following her death, renewed interest in her work and a
reexamination of the significance of her career reemerged following a major retrospective
at the Whitney Museum in 2013. Her work is currently in a number of prestigious public
collections, including the Tate Modern, London; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.