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The Eyes

1958

Jay DeFeo, The Eyes, 1958. Graphite on paper, 42 × 84 3/4 in. (106.7 × 215.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Lannan Foundation  96.242.3
© 2009 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1958, Jay DeFeo made a 7-foot-wide drawing of a pair of eyes. The model for the drawing was most likely a small black-and-white photograph of her face, cropped to show only the horizontal strip of her eyes. For DeFeo, looking at the photograph of her eyes while making the work was similar to the process of seeing her own reflection in a mirror. When DeFeo made The Eyes, she was thinking about vision and imagining what would come next for her as an artist. This drawing was the “opening” through which DeFeo was able to picture what her following works would be—in particular, her painting The Rose (1958–66). Notice how the vertical lines in the drawing are like a veil that transforms her eyes into something different and more mysterious than a real pair of eyes.

“I really kind of felt as though I was seeing The Rose to come through the doing of this drawing. It was a very important drawing for me to do. It was almost a kind of visionary experience for me, as though I were seeing from the inside out.”

—Jay DeFeo

This is a cropped photograph of a person’s eyes, similar to the one DeFeo may have used.

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