Jay DeFeo at Hosfelt Gallery
In 1959 Jay DeFeo and her then-husband Wally Hedrick received a letter from Bruce Conner, inducting them into the Rat Bastard Protective Association, of which he was the President, and suggesting that they start paying dues. Other original members included Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, and Jess Collins. The group of about eight artists exhibited together in San Francisco throughout the 50s and 60s, meeting every couple of weeks at each other’s apartments and studios. They formed at a time when the Beat artists were gaining prominence in San Francisco, and began to be somewhat of a spectacle. Visitors to the city could take tour buses through the North Beach neighborhood to see the ‘Beat Scene’, and Hedrick himself capitalized on the hysteria as a paid window painter at Vesuvio cafe. Dressed in all black, he sat in the popular North Beach bar’s window and created improvisational paintings and drawings each night, performing along with the jazz band. - More from San Francisco contributor, Nadiah Fellah, after the jump!
Hedrick’s ease as a personage for the San Francisco art scene at the time was sharply contrasted by Jay DeFeo’s increasing withdrawal from the art world and social scene. Eager to escape the hype of North Beach, many artists moved to the Fillmore District of the city, where rents were cheaper.
It was DeFeo’s apartment at 2322 Fillmore Street where she created her most famous painting, and the piece around which most discussions of DeFeo are centered. The Rose was eight years in the making, and comprised of over 2,300 pounds of house paint, wood scraps, stones, beads, pearls and wire. In its finished form the colossal work blurred the line between painting and sculpture. When The Rose was completed in 1966 DeFeo took a hiatus from painting that lasted nearly fifteen years. It is her eventual return to painting during the last decade or so of her life that make up many of the works in the Hosfelt Gallery show.
Hosfelt Gallery brings together over forty works by DeFeo, including graphite drawings, paintings, photographs, and photocopies, many of which have never been shown before. It is the first exhibition of the artist’s work in her home city in several years. The show provides a fascinating glimpse into DeFeo’s assiduous explorations of form, material, and texture. All works in the show are in black, white and gray hues, highlighting the artist’s interests not so much with color, but with depth, volume, and light.
In some of the larger paintings, like Untitled (Samurai series) and Bride, both from 1986, DeFeo recalls the classic language of Abstract Expressionism with stark, undulating brush strokes that slash through much of the canvases. In smaller paintings and drawings like Dead End, her lines evoke the walls, corners and doorways of architecture, abrupt scenes from a larger, imagined building.
Among the most fascinating paintings in the show for their technique are a few small canvases from a series titled Reflections of Africa, all from 1987. In them DeFeo has grounded her surface with a base of black paint, creating a thick, monochromatic yet highly textured surface. On top of the dried paint she then used white pastel, and with the most delicate of touches, created round, abstract shapes that are cephalic or planetary in nature. The resulting surface is an otherworldly, gleaming landscape. DeFeo did in fact travel to Africa in 1987 where she scaled Mount Kenya, and it’s possible that these works recall the irregular, snow-covered surface of the African mountain range.
Through the diverse representation of media in the show, one can truly appreciate the artist’s ability to scrutinize a single motif in multiple ways, as well as her tendency to revel in the physical quality of materials. The compass is one tool that shows up repeatedly in this selection of works. Its manifestations of circles and arcs, shapes that DeFeo plays with adding elements of volume to, are seen ubiquitously. In a series of works on paper created with a photocopier, DeFeo uses the compass itself, collapsing its arms and laying the tool flat. The metal object takes on a remarkably industrial feel, and creates reflective, high-contrast images aided by the light of the copy machine. This theme of technology is an advent much different from early works that relied on thick and expressive paint handling, yet stay true to DeFeo’s dark and haunting aesthetic.
DeFeo is on view at Hosfelt Gallery in SF through October 22nd.
(All images © 2011 The Jay DeFeo Trust/Artists Rights Society/ARS, New York)
EDIT: For more information about the exhibition and jay defeo's work see these posts on Todd Hosfelt's blog:
Jay DeFeo was born in Hanover, NH in 1929. She grew up in San Jose, California, and studied painting at UC Berkeley from 1946-51. Living and working in the Bay Area throughout her career, DeFeo taught at Mills College from 1981 until her death in 1989. A retrospective of the artist's work is planned for 2012 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Nadiah Fellah is a curatorial assistant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).