Skip to main content


The Jay DeFeo Foundation, a private foundation, was established under the terms of the will of the artist Jay DeFeo (1929–1989) to preserve her works, further their public exposure, and to encourage the arts and artists. The Foundation fosters and shares knowledge about DeFeo’s art and life and the greater art historical context in which she worked. The Foundation owns and administers the artist’s art, archive, and intellectual property as charitable resources to further public access to and understanding of DeFeo’s creative works and ideas.

It accomplishes this mission by collaborating on exhibitions and publications, facilitating placement of the artist’s works in public collections, and encouraging and supporting conservation, research, education, and scholarship.

As an established artist-endowed foundation, The Jay DeFeo Foundation welcomes opportunities to share information about professional practice with other artists’ foundations and, where helpful, provides information about its experience to artists who are documenting their oeuvres.

Trustees and Advisors


Diane Frankel is a museum consultant working with museums across the country. She was the executive director of the Artists’ Legacy Foundation and the director of IMLS, a federal funding agency. She sits on the Board of the Fort Mason Arts and Culture Center, on the Tate African Arts Council, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. She was appointed a trustee of The Jay DeFeo Foundation in April 2016.

Jane Green is an art historian and co-editor of the book Jay DeFeo and “The Rose” (2003). She was a long-time member of the board of trustees of the University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. In 1993, she established the Jane Green Endowment for Studies in Art History and Criticism at Mills College. She was appointed a trustee of The Jay DeFeo Foundation in July 2010.

Leah Levy has served as a trustee of The Jay DeFeo Foundation since its inception in 1991. She has organized exhibitions as an independent art curator and is the author of several books and numerous catalogue essays. From 1974 to 1983 she owned and directed the Leah Levy Gallery in San Francisco. She was founding curator of Capp Street Project, an artist-in-residency program for site-specific installations. She worked with Jay DeFeo as a curatorial consultant from 1985 until the artist’s death in 1989. She is the executive director of The Jay DeFeo Foundation and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Artists’ Legacy Foundation and the Nancy Graves Foundation. Leah currently serves as Honorary Chair, Aspen Institute Artist-Endowed Foundations Initiative Advisor.

Advisory Committee

Jack Cowart, a curator and art historian, is the founding executive director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Nan Davis, a former director of the Marian Goodman Gallery, has an extensive background in art publications and in art gallery management.

Mildred Howard is an artist living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Caroline Huber serves on the Board of Trustees of the Menil Foundation and on the Advisory Board of the Cornudas Mountain Foundation.

Lisa Phillips is the Toby Devan Lewis Director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.

Amy Trachtenberg is a visual artist living and working in San Francisco.

In Memoriam
James Demetrion was Director Emeritus of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, and Trustee Emeritus of the Phillips Collection.


The Jay DeFeo Foundation makes grants for specific projects to organizations exempt under IRS Code 501(c)(3). It does not make grants to individuals. Grants are made on an invitational basis.

Recipients include:

Addison Gallery of American Art
American Alliance of Museum Curators Foundation
American Foundation for The Courtauld Institute of Art
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Artist Relief Fund
Aspen Art Museum
Aspen Institute – Artist-Endowed Foundations Initiative
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
California College of Art Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
Creative Growth
Brooklyn Rail
Deborah Remington Charitable Trust for the Visual Arts
di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
The Drawing Center
Institute of Contemporary Art San José
Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Kala Art Institute
King Baudouin Foundation United States
The Lab, San Francisco
Laguna Art Museum
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Maryland Institute College of Art
Mills College Art Museum
Museum of Northern California Art
Noah Purifoy Foundation
Oakland Museum of California
Printed Matter, New York
Richmond Art Center
San Jose Museum of Art
The University of California, Berkeley
Whitney Museum of American Art

Missing Artworks

In anticipation of a future catalogue raisonné project and to maintain as complete a record as possible, The Jay DeFeo Foundation seeks to determine the location of the works pictured here, which are currently listed as “location unverified” in the Foundation’s listings. If you currently own or have previously owned any of these works, or have information about their whereabouts, we would be grateful for that information. We also appreciate receiving referrals to the existence and whereabouts of artworks by Jay DeFeo. The Foundation honors requests for confidentiality.

The Jay DeFeo MFA Prize at Mills College

In addition to establishing The Jay DeFeo Foundation, the artist’s will endowed the Jay DeFeo MFA Prize at Mills College, a separate and additional instrument of her philanthropy. The college administers and awards the Prize annually to one (or more) graduating Master of Fine Arts student(s) in Studio Art.

Awardees to date are:

1992: Linda Armitage

1993: Kathryn Spence

1994: Tammy Lu

1995: James Gouldthorpe

1996: Susan Preston

1997: Betsy Schneider

1998: Cee Dent and Elizabeth Jameson

1999: Matthew Scheatzle and Robert Lieber

2000: Daniel Barber and Cassie Davis

2001: Diane Jones

2002: Alesha Fiandaca and Seth Koen

2003: Nomi Talisman, Rosana Castrillo Diaz, Soffia Saemundsdottir

2004: Julia Page and Robert Lawless

2005: Tonya Solley Thornton, Michael Smit, Laura Paulini

2006: Amy Rueffert, Diana Guerrero, Krishna Khalsa

2007: Ginelle Hustruli

2008: David Linger, Sandra Ono, Joanne Hashitani

2009: Leigh Merrill, Andrew Witrak, Steuart Pittman

2010: Monica Lundy, Chris Fraser, Kate Stirr

2011: Amy M. Ho, Alexa Alexander, David W. Johnson

2012: Matthew Gottschalk and Michael Mersereau

2013: Simon Pyle and Claire Colette

2014: Katherine Rhoades, David Mohr, Gwynessa Balvanz

2015: Sara Kerr and Megan Ender

2016: Joel Frank

2017: Kate Pruitt

2018: Amy Nathan

2019: Tashi Wangdhu and Lindsay Rothwell

2020: Yetunde Olagbaju and Hannah Youngblood

2021: Laura DeAngelis

2022: Pat Woolf

2023: Yaminah Abdur-Rahim

Guest Commentary

Jay DeFeo, Untitled, 1973
Untitled, 1973. Photo collage with torn element on matboard, 5 1/8 x 4 1/4 inches (13 x 10.8 cm), JDF no. E2305.

Kimberly Burch, Lecturer of Art, School of Art, California State University, Long Beach
January 2021

“Abandoned, pulled from the sea, and eventually photographed by Jay DeFeo, the crab shell of Untitled (1973) might initially appear like the odd sitter of a portrait. Whether it was the undulating crevices or the subtle textured dot pattern across the surface, the serrated edges or its overall shape—something about the shell of Untitled (1973) ruminated with DeFeo; she chose this shell because of the formal qualities it possessed. DeFeo often returned to her favored “symbol shapes,” not out of comfort, but rather as part of her ongoing project to reformulate and expand upon a visual idea. Untitled (1973) conjures DeFeo’s past works on paper, such as Eyes and After Image (amongst others), the three connected through their form or composition. Nothing about the organization of her artworks is ever random. When she tore the edge of paper just so and selected a heavily grained paper for this collage, DeFeo cleverly mirrored the shell’s jagged edges and nubby surface texture, another visual opportunity she created by examining the underlying forms of the shell. When I first viewed Untitled (1973) at the Whitney Museum in 2013, this collage immediately spoke to me—so quiet and unassuming—and continues to reveal its visual complexity over time.”

Jay DeFeo, Untitled, 1971
Untitled, 1971. Gelatin silver print, 4 5/16 x 6 3/8 inches (11 x 16.2 cm), JDF no. P1607.

Emily Markert, Assistant Curator
November 2020

“This photograph is one of hundreds of examples of how Jay DeFeo consciously archived her practice by constantly documenting her workspace and her processes. What I love about this image is that the eye and the row of huge, disembodied teeth together form a strange, composite portrait. When looking at a photograph of an artist’s studio, one tends to imagine that a third party—perhaps a friend, admirer, or gallery representative—took it. But knowing that DeFeo was behind the camera here, the image reads like an intimate if surreal mirror. Interestingly, DeFeo consistently returned to imagery of eyes and this dental bridge (her own) in her paintings and photography, but she rarely painted portraits or photographed people.

DeFeo’s work often defies categorization, and her continual studio documentation is no exception. This work is believed to have been included in an exhibition at California College of the Arts (then California College of Arts and Crafts) in 1975—the only known occasion when DeFeo showed her photographs publicly during her lifetime. This fact may explain why her body of photographic work is less well-known than her paintings, something which scholars and The Jay DeFeo Foundation are working to change. The CCAC exhibition included the painting seen in-progress here, which, by contrast, is one of her most well-known works.”

Jay DeFeo, Dove One, 1989
Dove One, 1989. Oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 50.8 cm), JDF no. E1225. Private collection.

Charles Shere, Author and Critic
October 2020

“DeFeo’s paintings are perhaps the most perfectly developed examples of the art of her time and values—and therefore among the greatest visual art produced in this country in the years after World War II. They speak of romantic agony, mystical meditation, extraordinarily focused discipline and total dedication. There is never a hint of anxiety, compromise, ego-expression or commercial interest. In her second period the hypnotic reductiveness of her whites and greys gave way to a more joyous palette, but the objectivity of her forms, the fruit of long pursuit of real objects and shapes, continued to ground this expressiveness in an essentially ethical, serious art. She had Kline’s strength, Motherwell’s nobility, DeKooning’s lyricism, and Guston’s faith. She seemed a Platonist painter, concerned with the universal whiteness, shape, and gesture of the objects she treats. Rooted in the real, she saw the universal, the timeless, the ideal.”

From Charles Shere. “Jay DeFeo (1929-1989).” Art of California (Mar. 1990): 36–39

More criticism by Charles Shere can be found here:
A Critic’s Farewell: Writings from the Oakland Tribute, by Charles Shere, 2019, Ear Press

Ron Amstutz Installation view of The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June 28, 2019- ). From left to right: Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958-66; Norman Lewis, American Totem, 1960; Franz Kline, Mahoning, 1956, 2019
Ron Amstutz, Installation view of The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June 28, 2019- ). From left to right: Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958-66; Norman Lewis, American Totem, 1960; Franz Kline, Mahoning, 1956, 2019

Armando Jaramillo Garcia, Poet and Gallery Assistant, Visitor Services department at the Whitney Museum of American Art
July 2020

“I’m thinking a lot these days about Jay DeFeo’s The Rose, a work she created over the course of eight years in her San Francisco apartment. To me, it expresses the essence of struggle, of trying to express your vision as it evolves without compromise. It also speaks to me about the close relationship between obsession and isolation for artists, as well as the calamities and circumstances that can present themselves and make the world feel like it’s spiraling out of control.

DeFeo fought through poverty, neglect, and eventually illness to create this monumental work. She was sustained by a community of friends and artists, curators and museum directors—and without their support, The Rose wouldn’t have made it to where it is now.

In conversation with Leah Levy near the end of her life, DeFeo expressed her faith in The Rose’s ultimate fate: It was a work that began with visions and ended with her vision of it hanging in a museum, where she might, in another life, feel proud of it being admired.”

Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980
Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980. acrylic on paper, 44 3/4 x 30 1/4 inches (113.7 x 76.8 cm), JDF no. E1461. Private collection.

Meredith George Van Dyke, Curatorial Assistant, SFMOMA
June 2020

“Delicate lilacs, sunburnt yellows, and a mossy vertical line hang together over a precipice of nearly untouched paper. Made in 1980 as DeFeo’s world was changing amidst a summer respite from the demands of teaching, a difficult break-up, and an upcoming move to Oakland, the artist asserted herself with an “eternal triangle.” The pointed form evolved from her Eraser series, whose molded and bent contours drew from the namesake putty erasers in her studio. Here, DeFeo grasped at the ephemeral, while hewing to observations of her surrounding environment. The tightly controlled spray of color hints at the lush, bucolic setting of her Larkspur home. Each precise mark comes together to brilliantly capture DeFeo’s sharp vision.”

Jay DeFeo, Untitled, 1973
Untitled, 1973. gelatin silver print, image: 4 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches (11.4 x 11.4 cm), sheet: 5 7/16 x 4 15/16 inches (13.8 x 12.5 cm), JDF no. P1224D. Collection of Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Dawn Troy, Archivist and Research Administrator at The Jay DeFeo Foundation
May 2020

“One of my favorite DeFeo photographs is an abstraction made from an old DeFeo painting, torn down in pieces from her wall at Fillmore Street in 1965 and saved for years under her bed, eventually pulled out and photographed in 1973. It’s another example of DeFeo looking back at previous work for inspiration toward new work, pulling ideas through different media, and re-creating it. This painting fragment, exact size unknown, thick with paint and who knows what else, was posed in her studio, folded over, torn, crinkled into a new shape that looks nothing like what it was before. By photographing it DeFeo creates an illusion where one can’t tell if it’s made of paint or it’s the side of a mountain. I’m fascinated by the uncertainty, although knowing the model is something from her past gives meaning to the layers of paint and time – all caught in a single, gorgeous photograph.”

Untitled (Florence), 1952. tempera on paper mounted on brown paper, 23 1/2 x 14 1/2 inches (59.7 x 36.9 cm), JDF no. E1208.

David Pagel, art historian and critic
September 2018

“Part of the power of DeFeo’s abstract images resides in their size. Not too much bigger than the pages of a large book, her works on paper invite one-on-one intimacy. Plus, their compact format ensures that the gestures they record emanate from DeFeo’s wrist, rather than her shoulder. As a result, the depicted forms are restrained, wispy and often animated by tentative, quivering lines.”

From The Los Angeles Times by David Pagel, September 26, 1997

Apparition, 1956. charcoal and chalk on paper, 34 1/16 x 42 inches (86.5 x 106.7 cm), JDF no. E1122.

Marla Prather, curator
August 2018

“Wally Hedrick has noted that at the time ‘Jay was really looking at Leonardo’s drawings of water flow/eddies and plant studies.’ The unidentified form in Apparition, which seems to spin from a central vortex with naturalistic yet ecstatic movement, suggests human hair, as much as plant or other material; it might be an airborne wig or a nest, or even the drifting tentacles of a sea anemone. While Leonardo sought scientific verisimilitude in his refined, diminutive illustration, DeFeo exploited his example with expressionist fervor. Uprooting his plant, she set her charcoal filaments aloft and reinforced their undulating rhythms with white chalk, thereby enhancing the ghostly,‘apparitional’ quality of the image.”

From the essay “Beside the Rose: DeFeo’ Work at the Whitney Museum” by Marla Prather in Jay DeFeo and The Rose, University of California Press, 2003

student color wheel, 1944. graphite and watercolor on paper, 18 x 12 inches (45.7 x 30.5 cm), JDF no. E1547.

Dana Miller, curator
July 2018

“While she was in elementary school, a neighbor gave her a ‘how-to-draw’ book, and she spent hours practicing her favorite exercise, how to draw the perfect circle. As a mature artist, the circle, along with the triangle, the cross, the square, the spiral, and the oval, became the basis of her formal iconography. DeFeo returned to these shapes again and again (she eventually bought a compass to help her with the perfect circle), although the wide variety of media she employed often belies the consistency of her vision.”

From the essay “I Should Go to the Very Center” by Dana Miller in Jay DeFeo—No End: Works on Paper from the 1980s; Botanicals: Photographs from the 1970s, 2006

Untitled, 1972. gelatin silver print, 4 1/4 x 6 5/16 inches (10.8 x 16 cm), JDF no. P1200B.

Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator
June 2018

“In letters, diaries, and conversations, DeFeo noted the importance throughout art history of the myriad impressions that are possible by putting white shapes on black surfaces and black forms upon white surfaces, a premise that is a cornerstone of much of her work in all media. Some of her botanical photographs are filled with intricate forms and layers created by light and shadow, resembling complicated aerial views of the earth. They are rich with the push/pull of light and dark discussed so eloquently in Wassily Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art, a major early treatise on abstraction.”

From the essay “When a Plant is not a Plant: The Botanical Photographs of Jay DeFeo” by Anne Wilkes Tucker in Jay DeFeo—No End: Works on Paper from the 1980s; Botanicals: Photographs from the 1970s, 2006

Untitled (Tripod Series), 1975. oil pencil and acrylic on photocopy, cut to the outline of the figure and laid down on paper, 18 x 12 inches (45.7 x 30.5 cm), JDF no. P1182.

Paul Galvez, curator
May 2018

“Something that has garnered hardly any attention but which impresses immediately upon seeing the works in person are what could be called their bleeding edges. By this I mean the way in which the tripod’s legs and handle or the compasses arms are never filly articulated, never finally defined by the closing of a contour, or are otherwise blurred. Even when the edges are clean-cut, as in the drawings on a dark ground, parts of the figure still trail off the sheet or are made illegible with heavy strokes. This effect is present no matter what the deformation, no matter what the cropping, and no matter how much of the sheet the object occupies. It is so consistent that one is tempted to see in it an overall principal.”

Untitled, 1973. gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 4 11/16 inches (12.1 x 11.9 cm), JDF no. P1217B.

Jennifer Brandon, artist and educator
February 2018

“A band of deep reflective plastic pushes against a creamy flotsam of paint-laden paper pulled from DeFeo’s former studio. These materials of making and things made are new again and again in her hands and through her lens. In this studio they hang before her camera, and in the space of the resulting image there are so many tensions at play: between light and dark, foreground and back, flatness and dimension, representation and abstraction, painting and photography. This intimate space holds it all, seemingly and abruptly divided, but what holds me are those shapes — the slickness of the crinkled highlight on the left and the rough tactility of the fragment on the right — that pull one another onto the same plane.”

Study for Crescent Bridge (my model…out of my own head!), 1971. gelatin silver print with typed labels, 3 1/16 x 4 1/4 inches (7.8 x 10.8 cm), JDF no. P0024.

Ruby Neri, artist
January 2018

“What I love so much about Jay’s work, the complete depth of her focus within single pieces, the exploration within structure, the depth of personal/conceptual form, the persistence of object making. When I see the beginning of a thought process, [Study for Crescent Bridge (my model…out of my own head!)], I see the amount of information available is so deep, so vast. The image/text holds so much to work with, I see years within this image, a crescent, a bridge, a mouth, a model, possession, internal space, external space, sharp things, gross things, black and white, silver metal, crazy thoughts, control, shadows, insurmountable mountain scape, etc., a deep well to immerse herself while alone in the studio, for what could be eternity! All of this within a very small and very powerful image/object to gaze upon and refer to.”

Seven Pillars of Wisdom No. 6, 1989. charcoal and acrylic on paper, 29 x 23 inches (73.7 x 58.4 cm), JDF no. E1275.

Greil Marcus, critic
November 2017

“DeFeo revels in the fact that there is wisdom that will always be withheld. But at the same time, in her play with form, in the endless possibilities of tone, shade, weight, substance, density—of presence—that she can discover in the object that she has fetishized, DeFeo herself refuses the absolute blackness, the void, that Ron Nagle’s cup as she has it set up before herself so insistently suggests.”

Marcus, Greil. “Untitled.” In Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective. New York and New Haven: Witney Museum of American Art and Yale University Press, 2012.

Untitled (Florence), 1952. tempera on paper, 26 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches (66.7 x 49.5 cm), JDF no. E1415.

Klaus Kertess, gallerist, critic and curator
September 2017

“Like all of her succeeding work, in a variety of media and ritual means of making, these temperas hover on the tremulous edge where creation and destruction are found in a precarious embrace. DeFeo’s talismanic glyphs are as much about the searching for meaning as the futility of that search—whether they are modeled on an ironing board, a bison, Christ’s cross, or some totally enigmatic motif, whether subversively humorous or darkly lugubrious, they simultaneously jubilate and mourn their incompletion.”

Kertess, Klaus. “Lyric Tempers: Jay DeFeo’s Early Works.” In Jay DeFeo: The Florence View. San Francisco: Museo ItaloAmericano, 1997.

Untitled (Florence), 1952. tempera with collage on paper, 39 1/4 x 29 1/2 inches (99.7 x 74.9 cm), JDF no. E1391.

Constance Lewallen, curator
August 2017

“[DeFeo’s] loneliness in Florence was alleviated somewhat by the close friendships she made with the Bartolini family. ‘The first week,’ she wrote home, ‘they didn’t like me…! Nobody in the history of the Pensione has ever turned a living accommodation into an absolute art factory!’ But soon they were treating her like part of the family, even caring for her when she fell ill. The small crucifix that hung on her Pensione wall is reduced to simple crossed lines in works of that time and later. She was also fascinated by the cruciform floor plans of Florentine churches. In the end, she made hundreds of paintings—for the most part, tempera (which she made herself) on paper.”

Lewallen, Constance. “Pensione Bartolini.” In Jay DeFeo: The Florence View. San Francisco: Museo ItaloAmericano, 1997.

Incident, 1978. acrylic on paper, 14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm), JDF no. E1442.

Leah Levy, Executive Director and Trustee, The Jay DeFeo Foundation
May 2017

“I’ve always loved looking at and thinking about DeFeo’s 1978 work Incident. It has a seemingly careful, deliberate central placement on the page, but also the speed and spontaneity and mix of marks evident in much of DeFeo’s work. The notion of a specified ‘incident’ calls forth DeFeo’s humor and her willingness to be mysterious in her playfulness. Incident is a wonderful example of the balance of intension, with every mark having a purpose, and of an openness to incorporating the element of chance that we see in even her most exacting works.”

Untitled, 1979. graphite and charcoal with collage (newspaper cut-outs) on paper, 14 x 11 1/16 inches (35.6 x 28.1 cm), JDF no. E2034.
Untitled, 1979. graphite, ink wash, charcoal and chalk on paper, 14 x 11 1/16 inches (35.6 x 28.1 cm), JDF no. E2035.

Anna Kraft, Exhibition Coordinator at Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris
April 2017

“At first, the parallels between Jay DeFeo’s two works on paper, both Untitled 1979 (E2034 and E2035), and Picasso’s work did not visually strike me. It was later, when discovering images of her studio showing the works pinned on the wall next to a photocopy of Guernica, that the underlining harmonies revealed themselves as evidence. Jay DeFeo said in a 1975 interview with Paul Karlstrom, speaking of a class she took with John Haley in graduate school, ‘…We took Picasso’s Guernica as a point of departure, as a major work. From there we let it expand into small studies in small mediums and let small work grow out of the major work. And at the same time let small work feed into the major work.’ Years after, that ‘self-induced imagery’ still resonates through DeFeo’s complex body of work.”

The Verónica, 1957. oil on paper mounted on canvas, 132 x 42 3/8 inches (335.3 x 107.6 cm), JDF no. E2744.

Dodie Bellamy, Writer
February 2017

“The canvas is tall and narrow, like a microscope slide standing on its end, like a close up of a slice of very strange flesh. I have to crane my head back to take in all eleven feet of it. The top of the splash touches an ominous darkness. No matter how far away I stand, I can’t manage to see the whole painting at once. My eye is forced into movement, waves of movement. The more I look at it the more frenetic The Verónica becomes, and I grow queasy. Where’s the center? Its focal point appears to be outside the right border of the frame. Its wide strokes are tiled over one another, suggesting petals or feathers, like it could be a close up of a wing, giant bird’s—or angel’s—wing. As I stare my vision twitches and the movement of The Verónica seems to change, to sweep down and to the right, into the giant feathery armpit, the armpit of something other, something transhuman. I love it when nonrepresentational art—rather than just standing there in its leaden materiality—sparks off an association feast, a slide show in my mind of images and emotional reverb. In its prettiness The Verónica is more subversive than Incision, which announces something deeper, intense is going on. The Verónica’s creepiness sneaks up on you. Femininity flails its pretty neck and grows monstrous, out of control.”

Untitled (Florence), 1952. tempera on paper, 21 5/8 x 24 1/8 inches (54.9 x 61.3 cm), JDF no. E1411.

Klaus Kertess, Writer and curator (1940-2016)
November 2016

“She would as readily extrude totemic resonance from a gust of gestural strokes as from the meticulously rendered reincarnation of a camera tripod or a pair of swimming goggles. Quite fearlessly, she urged formalism into shamanism, photography into drawing, drawing into painting, painting into sculpture, blossom into decay—and vice versa.”

Kertess, Klaus. “Lyric Tempers: Jay DeFeo’s Early Works.” In Jay DeFeo: The Florence View. San Francisco: Museo ItaloAmericano, 1997.

Doctor Jazz, 1958. acrylic and graphite with tinsel on paper mounted on canvas,125 1/2 x 42 1/2 inches (318.8 x 108 cm), JDF no. E1211.

Bill Berkson, Poet, critic, and teacher (1939-2016)
October 2016

“Fittingly, the lead sentence of DeFeo’s statement for the “Sixteen Americans” catalogue read: ‘Only by chancing the ridiculous can I hope for the sublime.’ Sublimity was built into the tremendous body language—‘organic’ and full of ‘growth forms’ in the parlance of the time but with supra-organic, and dashingly clear, cosmological overtones—that characterizes the paintings, outsized drawings, collages and other mixed medium constructions DeFeo made from about 1954 on. The ridiculous too was ever at hand. At her most obsessive, DeFeo was gifted with a sprightly sense of play that allowed her to follow her intuitions and yearnings without hammering them into theses. A early as her student years, she later told [Paul] Karlstrom, she had conceived of making an image ‘about being on an edge…I wanted to create a work that was just so precariously balanced between going this way or that way that it maintained itself.’”

Berkson, Bill. “In the Heat of The Rose.” Art in America, March 1996.

Untitled (Water Goggles series), 1977. acrylic, charcoal, ink, grease pencil and graphite on paper, 15 x 20 inches (38.1 x 50.8 cm), JDF no. E1055.

Ursula Cipa, Artist
Augus 2016

“With Jay, everything was material. I mean, the way she saw the world, everything was a possible material used for her process. That was always exciting to be around. I remember her walls were covered with images that she turned upside down, looked at, reused. If she broke a glass she would keep the shape around, because it just suggested something else to her. Everything was material for her. She was constantly looking all of the time.”

Cipa, Ursula. From “Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective” audio guide. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2013.

Incision, 1958-60. oil and string on canvas mounted on board, 118 x 55 5/8 x 9 3/8 inches (299.7 x 141.3 x 23.8 cm), JDF no. E2753.

Catherine Spencer, Lecturer in modern and contemporary art at the University of St Andrews, Scotland
July 2016

“In Incision, DeFeo’s combination of thick paint and string similarly assumes the quality of a ‘hybrid product.’ Its abstract forms and textures combine references to geology, minerals, coral and rock formations, while alluding viscerally to the body and Thoreau’s ‘brains or lungs or bowels, and excrements of all kinds.’”

Spencer, Catherine. “Coral and Lichen, Brains and Bowels: Jay DeFeo’s Hybrid Abstraction.” Tate Papers No.3, Spring 2015.

Untitled, 1975-76. collage of photomechanical reproduction, gelatin silver print and transparent pressure-sensitive tape, 9 3/8 x 3 3/4 inches (23.8 x 9.5 cm), JDF no. E2922.

Greil Marcus, American author, music journalist and cultural critic
June 2016

“In these acts, the three were less collaborating than continuing a conversation that regardless of how long it might have been since DeFeo saw Berman or Conner could be picked up at any time. Everyone has had a very few friends of whom that could be said, but there was something more going on. It was as if, at certain times, when the loneliness in art-making made art-making feel incomplete, someone else was needed to complete a work, to provide a crucial affirmation, even if a work would not be finished for years, if ever, even if it was not exactly meant to be a work at all, when play came first and the spirit of play never floated away from the work.”

Marcus, Greil. Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo: Collaborative Mysticism. Paris: Galerie Frank Elbaz, 2016.

Untitled, 1979. graphite and charcoal with collage (newspaper cut-outs) on paper, 14 x 11 1/16 inches (35.6 x 28.1 cm), JDF no. E2034.

Amy Trachtenberg, Artist
June 2016

“So. Trust and Play. Tipping points.
It’s all about that. The equilibrium of careening into play with trust. With a friend or on our own. Mostly on our own. This push against the comfort zones while digging farther into our astral and archeological minefields.

Greil Marcus gets it so good. Between Jay, Berman and Conner, their bios reading like a weather report locating the facts of their births and deaths, they are the California Mystics.

When I moved to Paris in late 70s I brought them with me in memory and in reproductions. The fluidity between collage, drawing, film, photography, correspondence and collaboration, painting, objects and addressing each other was my contemporary California version of Paris in the 20s.

Nobody in Paris seemed to know them. Or care.

The beat went on and bolstered my inclinations away from a singular way of working as I was pushed strongly to determine a signature always knowing that to be impossible.”

Untitled (Eternal Triangle series), 1980. acrylic and charcoal on paper, 21 3/4 x 29 1/4 inches (21 3/4 x 29 1/4 cm), JDF no. E1200.

Jens Hoffman, Deputy Director of The Jewish Museum in New York
May 2016

“In the Eternal Triangle series the putty eraser is similarly physically charged in its drawn, painted, and photographed forms—its malleability resembling that of flesh. The eraser carries further connotations particularly resonant to DeFeo’s method, suggesting both failure and production: her drawings, as well as her paintings, are as much process of removal as accumulation and thus the eraser plays an almost equivalent role to the pencil or brush.”

Hoffman, Jens. “The Ritual of Everyday Life: On the Migrating Objects of Jay DeFeo.” In 33 Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters Selected Writings (2003–2015). Zurich: JRP | Ringier and Les Presses Du Réel, 2015.

Untitled (R. Mutt’s cast), 1973. gelatin silver print, 7 13/16 x 4 15/16 inches (19.8 x 12.5 cm), JDF no. P1333F.

Walead Beshty, Artist and writer
April 2016

“Instead of being a symbol of suffering, it is as though the cross itself had suffered injury and is being made whole again in its coming together as an object, like a wounded limb bandaged not simply to heal, but to become more than it was, adding that bandage to itself for perpetuity rather than shedding it at some point when wholeness was re-achieved, another instance of accumulation, of patchwork expansion.”

Beshty, Walead. “Chancing The Ridiculous to Reach the Sublime.” In Jay DeFeo: Where the Swan Flies.. Houston: Moody Gallery, 2008.

C.R. (Bob) Snyder, Jay DeFeo listening to jazz at The Cellar, San Francisco, 1959. gelatin silver print, JDF no. R0331.

Constance Lewallen, Adjunct Curator at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
April 2016

“The small group of artists and poets who revolved around the CSFA [California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute], the King Ubu, and, later, the Six and Batman galleries, the Cellar and the Place cafés, and Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, in North Beach, shared not only a devotion to their own crafts but to Jazz which flourished in San Francisco since the forties and symbolized the rejection of the stultifying conformism and materialism of the McCarthy-Eisenhower years. Moreover, bebop’s fusion of erudition and and intuition was a perfect analog for the Beat philosophy. DeFeo was deeply involved in jazz, especially female vocalists like Bessie Smith, whose 78s she bought at the Black and White Record store on Filmore Street.”

Lewallen, Constance. “Mountain Climbing.” In Jay DeFeo: Selected Works 1952–1989. Philadelphia: Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, 1996

Torso, 1952. oil with string on canvas, 90 x 38 1/2 inches (228.6 x 97.8 cm), JDF no. E1295.

Constance Lewallen, Adjunct Curator at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
April 2016

“When DeFeo returned to Berkeley in 1953 from her European sojourn, she moved back into the same large studio on Magnolia Street she had rented in her final year at the university. Of the dozens of motifs she had tried out the in the previous three years, she held on to some—like the torso, the cross, the eye, and the bird throughout her life. Torso (1952) combines the colorful, slashing strokes of her European works on paper with the stable, rectangular image similar to the ‘table’ of Untitled (Berkeley) (1953) (righted it becomes a body). Its elongated vertical proportions also point to many of the drawings and sculptural paintings that soon were to occupy her.”

Lewallen, Constance. “Mountain Climbing.” In Jay DeFeo: Selected Works 1952–1989. Philadelphia: Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, 1996

Clubbing No. 5, 1988. acrylic, oil pastel and charcoal on rag board, 18 x 23 3/4 inches (45.7 x 60.3 cm), JDF no. E1163.

John Yau, American poet and critic
March 2016

“Is the object mechanical or organic or both? Is its purpose positive or negative, creative or destructive? By cropping it so that we can see only where the tubular form enters and the other exits, DeFeo robs us of a sense of scale. Is it massive or infinitesimally small? And what scale is the viewer? DeFeo’s work evokes an awareness of the immensity of reality and how mysterious, wondrous, and at times terrifying it can be.”

Yau, John. “The Indefinable Art of Jay DeFeo.” In Jay DeFeo: Chiaroscuro. Zurich: Galerie Eva Presenhuber and JPR|Ringier, 2013.

Untitled (Mountain series – Everest), 1955. oil on canvas, 100 5/8 x 74 1/4 inches (255.6 x 188.6 cm), JDF no. E1130.

Catherine Spencer, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art, University of St. Andrews
February 2016

“While Untitled (Mountain series—Everest) seems occasionally about to cohere into identifiable imagery, it remains in flux. DeFeo’s placement of ‘Everest’ in titular brackets infers the generalized idea of a mountain, rather than topographical actuality. As DeFeo emphasized, her engagement with the natural environment did not result in ‘landscapes that one goes out and parks oneself down in the field to paint … they are landscape-like. They conjure up a kind of landscape feeling.’ Untitled (Everest) might offer a view down from a summit onto the terrain below, or even a glimpse of peaks breaking through cloud from the air, yet the composition also pitches the viewer into a granular, micro-level view of a rocky surface, frustrating a clear perspective.”

Spencer, Catherine. “Coral and Lichen, Brains and Bowels: Jay DeFeo’s Hybrid Abstraction.” Tate Papers No.23. Spring 2015

Origin, 1956. oil on canvas, 92 x 79 3/4 inches (233.7 x 202.6 cm), JDF no. E2743.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Associate Director for Conservation and Research, Whitney Museum of American Art; Director of the Center for Technical Study of Modern Art, Harvard Art Museum
January 2016

“We are greeted by mountainous rivulets of thick, wrinkled paint whose physicality is further emphasized by intermittent precipitous drop-offs to exposed, bare canvas. Carefully articulated, these palpable gulfs stand in contrast to the relatively smooth, fluid application of unctuous paint at the summit of the painting. Here, the versatility provided by various brushes and a palette knife, coupled with the incorporation of particulate matter in the medium, enables the simultaneous creation of flattened swaths of viscous paint and stokes with a decidedly bumpy topography.”

Mancusi-Ungaro, Carol. “When Material Becomes Art.” In Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective by Dana Miller. New York and New Haven: Whitney Museum of American Art and Yale University Press, 2012.

Untitled (Masking Model for later Loop System paintings), 1974. gelatin silver print, 7 x 3 11/16 inches (17.8 x 9.4 cm), JDF no. P1518.

Corey Keller, Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
December 2015

“Thinking about what is at stake in DeFeo’s photography is a way of reconsidering what medium means; through her process we can see photography as a medium with specific, inherent qualities, but also as a mediator or bridge between modes. Within the possibilities of photography are crystalized the major themes of DeFeo’s work: the push and pull between abstraction and representation; a concatenation of past, present, and future; and the relationship of the fragment to the whole.”

Keller, Corey. “My Favorite Things: The Photographs of Jay DeFeo.” In Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective by Dana Miller. New York and New Haven: Whitney Museum of American Art and Yale University Press, 2012.

The Jewel, 1959. oil on canvas, 120 x 55 inches (304.8 x 139.7 cm), JDF no. E1324.

Zach Fischman, Registrar, Harper’s Books
April 2015

“I thought about Jay DeFeo adding layers of mica to layers of paint, building up the geography of her work. There’s a very literal connection to be made between DeFeo crafting her surfaces and the continental forces that shape our landscape. Painting becomes geography, mountain building, valley forging. DeFeo builds her mountains, but she also weathers their slopes, becomes responsible for the erosion of her dunes. She built a mountain range of her own construction, and then mined it for the jewel of the painting’s title.”

The Eyes, 1958. graphite on paper, 42 x 84 3/4 inches (106.7 x 215.3 cm), JDF no. E1212.

Judith Delfiner, Art Historian, Assistant Professor of History of Contemporary Art, Université Pierre Mendès-France, Grenoble
March 2015

“As the fragment of a self-portrait, ‘The Eyes’ crystallizes, in a single unique image, the essence of the creative process operating in Jay DeFeo’s work. Retaining only the face’s gaze, this drawing exacerbates the articulation between the inner space of introspection and visionary projections that radiate outward from rectilinear features. The dilated pupils are crucibles for forming transcendent visions. Similar to crystal, which Nietzsche regarded as the place where ‘artistic forces’ appear, they are foyers for the release of creative energies, redoubling the mythic center out of which and toward which DeFeo’s entire work emanates and converges. Inspired by an untitled poem published by Philip Lamantia in the collection entitled Ekstasis (1959), ‘The Eyes’ prefigures the artist’s identification with the black hole of origins, exemplified by the crystal/rose engendering the totality of her work.”

Blossom (detail), 1958. collage of photomechanical reproductions with paint and tape on paper mounted on painted canvas, 43 1/8 x 33 7/8 inches (109.5 x 86 cm), JDF no. E1209. Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Fellows of Photography Fund and The Family of Man Fund.

Rebecca Schoenthal, The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia
February 2015

“Blossom 1958

Suggests a first flowering but the images of nude women she cuts from magazines are mature (as is JDF).
First flowering suggests innocence/loss of innocence.

Wm Blake poem ‘The Blossom.’
Is ‘the Rose’ blossoming? In her thoughts? Has she started it?

Nude pin-up girls — used also by male peers (BC)
Year later poses nude herself (for WB)

Men at the center, looking, reaching.
Women are faceless. Can’t look.
No identity other than the bodily. Flesh: round, soft, inviting. Evokes tactility of the petal.”

Wallace Berman, Jay DeFeo, 1959. toned gelatin silver print with transfer type, 7 1/8 x 5 7/8 inches (18.1 x 14.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, gift of the Lannan Foundation.

Hayley Barker, Artist
December 2014

“Calling The Rose a masterpiece seems like an understatement. The Rose is more like an entire retrospective in one painting. Years and years collected, layered. Abstract. White. Radial. Like staring into the sun and seeing your god there. This makes The Rose more being than painting. To see it in person would be to meet DeFeo’s family, her sisters and brothers, her lovers, her mother and father, the kids she never had, her clan, her ancestors. Her earth and body. Her woes and passions. Her will to create. Her atmosphere. Her Universe. Her future cancer.”
© 2014, Hayley Barker

Living area of Jay DeFeo’s studio in Oakland, California with bar on left, 1986. Photograph © M. Lee Fatherree. Artwork pictured: Apparition, 1956 (back wall left), September Blackberries, 1973 (back wall right).

Rene de Guzman, Senior Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum of California
November 2014

“The hardest winter was spent in Jay DeFeo’s studio. As a young artist, I sublet it during one of the coldest winters on record in the late ’80s. I recall the vast dark space, the legendary bar, and vapor breaths dissipating above me in bed. A DeFeo now hangs in the Oakland Museum of California. After working in San Francisco for years, my career has taken me back to the East Bay where I grew up and went to school. Jay’s art inspires reflections on life. They are about time, evoking ruins, Pompeii’s ashes, and the dust that we will all become.”

Wyatt Kahn, Drifter, 2011. canvas, rabbit skin glue and rust on panel, 73 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; T293, Rome. Photo credit: Genevieve Hanson.

Wyatt Kahn, Artist
October 2014

“When I was nineteen years old I saw a piece of art that would have a profound and long lasting impact on my work. The Rose was significantly larger than myself and its physical nature pulled me in but also kept me at bay, providing a prolonged experience of aesthetic purgatory. I didn’t know that a painting could so fully incorporate sculpture and architecture while still only using paint. Everyday in my studio, I attempt to the integrate the same ideal, methodology, and weight into every picture I make. In many ways, I owe my whole practice to The Rose.

Members enjoying the galleries during the opening of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 26, 2013. Photograph © Matthew Carasella/ Artwork pictured: The Rose, 1958-66 (detail).

Renny Pritikin, Chief Curator of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
June 2014

“I told my student in the curatorial practice Masters program at CCA, Will Brown, that he should check out the DeFeo retrospective at SFMOMA. He hadn’t heard of her; he’s young, mid-twenties young. I was taking my brother, visiting from New York, through the show a week later. There was Will, standing in front of The Rose, where he confessed he’d been standing for almost an hour, overwhelmed. I told him it was on my list of the ten greatest contemporary art pieces I’d ever seen, and he asked me to send him my list.”

Untitled, 1973. gelatin silver print chemigram, 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 inches (25.1 x 20 cm), JDF no. P1524.

Sarah Hotchkiss, Artist, Communications & Outreach Director at Southern Exposure, and co-director of Stairwell’s
May 2014

“The shadowy form looks ominous, yet not fully grown. It’s a young reaper, or possibly one of fiction’s Dementors, hunched over schoolwork and just beginning to glance up. It casts a diminished shadow on the wall behind, the result of a blinding camera flash, a surprise attack. The end result: an unfortunate candid for the yearbook pages of Hades High, all contrast, no definition, another alienating day in the halls.

“Of course, what I see says more about me than the print before me. The best abstraction conjures up a Rorschach test of free-floating associations—and Jay is never one to let me down.”

Tuxedo Junction, 1965/74. oil on paper mounted on painted Masonite, 48 3/4 x 32 1/2 inches (123.8 x 82.6 cm), JDF no. E1129A.

Tess Thackara, Editor at Artsy
April 2014

“A window onto an ancient moon, its curve formed against the thick void. Fragments of land masses, torn and fragile, their frayed edges brittle like ashy paper caught on fire. A moldy wall, dank and deep. Mottled. Bending to time and age, the corner of a sheet of paper curls. A tuxedo cat, wiry and wise, steadily places soft paws into the night.”

The Rose (then titled Deathrose), c. 1962-63. gelatin silver print, JDF no. R0001.

Natasha Poor, Art Historian and Museum Educator
April 2014

“Dirty laundry in the fridge. Dead Christmas trees. 2,300 pounds of debris collected, molded, adored. Self-imposed isolation and an obsession with dirt during a period preoccupied with cleanliness, boundaries, and traditional roles. Your encrusted rose blossomed nonetheless, eroding any semblance of conventional domesticity. A twisted housewife or a figure blurred and consumed by the surrounding decay?”

Song of Innocence, 1957. oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm), JDF no. E1316.

Sophia Hussain, Community Storyteller at Oakland Museum of California
March 2014

Song of Innocence is a small painting of an infinite scope. I may be looking up at a spectral vision in a clear night sky, or down at a volcano’s hiss. Perhaps I am in the midst of the quiet, still explosion. I imagine the painting growing and undulating on my computer screen: song of iTunes Visualizer. I have never seen the painting in person, but nonetheless feel lost in its depths. It has granted me a view of microscopic closeness or a rough outline of the universe, so abstracted by distance that it becomes, once again, small.”

Untitled, 1971. gelatin silver print, 4 3/4 x 4 7/8 inches (12.1 x 12.4 cm), JDF no. P1042.

Iva Gueorguieva, Artist
January 2014

“It’s 10 pm and I am staring at the image of Jay DeFeo’s photograph ‘Untitled’ from 1971 on my computer screen. I squint. I take a shower. I squint. I stare at the image of the cauliflower. When I was a child I believed that eating cauliflower would make you smart because it looks like a brain. As in Caravaggio’s painting of Salomé holding the head of St. John, the cauliflower rests on a platter. It exists in multiple dimensions. It is whole and it is severed. It is visible both frontally and from behind as it recedes within the space of a propped mirror, its severed part triangulated in a double reflection. I think of 17th century anatomy theaters where amongst the living sat skeletons holding inscriptions such as ‘Remember, you will die.’”

Untitled (White Spica), 1973. gelatin silver print, 8 7/8 x 7 9/16 inches (22.5 x 19.2 cm), JDF no. P1529.

Kevin Killian, Poet, Author and Playwright
December 2013

“DeFeo’s work from the 1970s repays careful viewing, but even a careless or first, purely binary impression can speak volumes. When I look at ‘Untitled (White Spica),’ a photograph from 1973, I see not her crumpled and reflattened 50s drawing; instead I see part of a psychedelic mushroom I ingested in 1973, a kid on a date on Long Island, hoping for a buzz that would last me to Monday. Today I touch the screen, and anticipate the tingle in my fingertips that was famously said to signal the trip. DeFeo as artist of synaesthesia, like Joan Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Scriabin, Nabokov, van Gogh, David Hockney, Syd Barrett, Kandinsky, Bernadette Mayer? Yes yes, why not? Astronomers know the white spica as a bright star in Virgo, but Richard Olney reserved the name for the purest aspic, the jellied consommé of a thousand Provenal dreams.”

Untitled, 1973. gelatin silver print, 4 1/2 x 5 inches (11.4 x 12.7 cm), JDF no. P0509A.

Lara Schweller, Coordinator, Community and Access Programs, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
October 2013

“The off-kilter symmetry reminds me of a Rorschach test. But with this image DeFeo gives us a glimpse into her mysterious language of form, instead of words. It is the type of image that makes me want to write a letter to the artist, to know her quiet thoughts, to speak her language. Dear Jay, there is mystery in the way you point us toward connections that cross form and material and object. It is the beauty in the way the constellation of sandpaper dots across the shell speaks to the pattern in the background.”