NARRATOR: In 1988, DeFeo and the curator Sidra Stitch discussed the making of The Rose.
JAY DEFEO: You know it was in the bay window of an old Victorian house, and when I say it was in there, it was in there! It had to be edged out with the greatest of care. And one of the great problems of painting it was a lot of broken glass. The windows were not even—we didn’t even have heat or light in that room. I just worked when the sun came up until—sometimes when really compulsive, by street lamp. That’s all I had down there. I turned off the PG&E. It was also very cold—I used to really dress for the cold weather. Part of the great problem of painting that picture—did I tell you this? About later seeing the profile of the painting? [Stitch: No.] Well, it wasn’t until the painting was removed that I was able to see—it does have a profile sort of like a pregnant woman! [Oh my.] There’s not a straight line in the piece. It has the illusion of—people have asked me, did you use rulers, how did you do this. It was all by measuring one curve against another curve in order to get a straight line. And it was complicated by the problem or the fact that because of the dampness in the atmosphere coming in through the back, not only was it bad for the canvas but it also increased the tightening and loosening of the canvas as the seasons changed. And in order to get that illusion of this thing coming out properly from the center, I would build up when the canvas tightened, and then when it loosened I would compensate for that. So even though the form was coming along fine, the depth was not coming along fine, depending on what season it was. And hacking away at one corner, thinking the problem was down there, I’d find out that the problem was somewhere else. That I really experienced as the real hard row to hoe that a sculptor has.
NARRATOR: The painting was wedged tightly into the window—and it was much too large to fit through the door of her studio and go down the stairs. There was no way to get the painting out but to cut through the window and the wall beneath and use a forklift to lower it from the building’s second story. Removing the painting was an elaborate operation—one that was captured by DeFeo’s friend, the artist Bruce Conner, and edited into his 1967 film The White Rose.