DANAMILLER: The Rose is DeFeo’s landmark painting. She spent almost eight years working on it, from 1958 to 1966. When she began the work she had really no notion of what she was going to make. She said the only thing she knew was that she was going to create a painting that had a center. That’s what she began with.
She would apply paint using palette knives and trowels, and build it up in this very, very extensive manner and then carve it back and shape it.There were days where she would walk into the studio in the morning and the paint had shifted overnight. While she had been happy with what it looked like when she left the evening before, it had been completely ruined in the course of gravity shifting the paint just because of the thick application.
She would have to, in some cases, scrape it all the way back and start over. It was a sum of its destructions in many ways.
NARRATOR: Jay DeFeo in 1988.
JAYDEFEO: It reached really final stages. You know, kind of like a whole cycle of art history. It went through a primitive, archaic, classic, and all on up to baroque and then I realized how kind of flamboyant the whole concept had gotten and I kind of pulled it back to a more classical stage. All of those stages were rather complete and interesting in themselves but just not what the final version was, what I intended. And I suppose, I don’t know whether it would have all gone on, on one canvas if I’d had the kind of studio that it could have spread itself out in a little bit. But I just had one big painting wall.
NARRATOR: DeFeo didn’t actually hang The Rose on a wall—she set it inside the large bay window in her studio, so the light came in from the two narrow windows on either side of the painting. This raking light was essential to the formation and the appearance of the painting, and we’ve worked to approximate that lighting in this exhibition. Please tap your screen to hear more about the way DeFeo used her studio space while making The Rose.