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Jay DeFeo


Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958–66. Oil with wood and mica on canvas, 128 7/8 × 92 1/4 × 11 in. (327.3 × 234.3 × 27.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Estate of Jay DeFeo and purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation  95.170
© 2009 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Jay DeFeo was an artist who made paintings, drawings, photographs, collages, sculpture, and jewelry. She also experimented with her own inventive mixtures of materials and techniques. DeFeo was inspired by everyday objects such as her swimming goggles and her teeth as well as by big ideas like the universe and the natural world, the imagination, and the spirit. During her artistic career, DeFeo returned again and again to certain ideas that were important to her: shapes and symbols that made up what she called her “visual vocabulary,” a central image or form, and an emphasis on surface texture. DeFeo spent almost eight years working on this large-scale painting, called The Rose. It is nearly 11 feet tall and 7 1/2 feet wide. When The Rose was completed, the paint measured 11 inches deep in some places.
About the artist
Jay DeFeo working on what was then titled Deathrose, 1960
Photograph by Burt Glinn. © Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

“I believe the only real moments of happiness and a feeling of aliveness & completeness occur when I swing a brush. I don’t think I can do without it.”

—Jay DeFeo

Oil paint

Jay DeFeo used many traditional materials, including oil paint, acrylic paint, watercolor, graphite, and charcoal.

“I personally consider my palette to be one of limited color range. . . .I am as interested in texture as in color, and texture is often closely connected to my choice of color.”

—Jay DeFeo

Untitled, 1973. Collage with cut gelatin silver print, torn paper, and paint on gelatin silver print photogram, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; purchase through a gift of Robin Wright and the Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Barbara and Gerson Bakar, Shawn and Brook Byers, Jean and James E. Douglas, Jr., Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Mary and Howard Lester, and Nancy and Steven Oliver. © 2013 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Don Ross


Jay DeFeo was inspired by what she saw around her. She looked closely at everything in her surroundings including her own eyes and teeth, flowers, plants, trees, and vegetables. She was also fascinated by man-made objects—a plaster cast that had been on her dog’s leg, her swimming goggles, camera tripods, and even broken items such as a telephone, a tape dispenser, and a cup handle.