Left Hands and Letters: YI Writers visit Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective
May 1, 2013

writers sit in front of The Rose in a circle

YI Writers in front of Jay DeFeo’s The Rose (1958-66).  Photograph by Kelman Duran

If there’s an opportunity for you to visit the Whitney, I highly recommend that you see Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective. On Tuesday, April 16, Youth Insights had a chance to view this exhibition. In the galleries, we began with an icebreaker. The question was: “Do you have a word that you like the sound or meaning of? Why?” The word didn’t have to be in the English language, but many of the Writers picked an English word. After each Writer chose a word and said it, we started talking about what words we didn’t like because of the way they sound or the way they look when they are written. After discussing the sound of words, we divided into two groups. Then we were shown bags that contained “unknown objects.” One of the people in each group had to pick a bag, slip his or her hand into it, and without saying what it was, describe the way the object felt to his or her group. Then the next person picked a new bag and the process was repeated. After this process, we could finally look inside the bags and see what the objects were—and they were quite unusual objects! They included tin cans with plastic flowers glued to them, fans attached to swim goggles, and more.

Next, we looked around the galleries and chose a work of art that was interesting to us. After that, we had to draw a close-up detail of that piece. When we were finished we had to `draw the same detail, but using our non-dominant hand. I had never tried to do such a thing. It was a discovery of how differently my hands work. After we finished with this, we moved into another room.

  • Students sit on a gallery floor and talk in a circle.

    YI Writers discuss their favorite and least favorite words. Photograph by Kelman Duran

  • Two students smile as they discuss art in a gallery.

    Laughs abound as Writers Julio and Simona try to describe their mysterious objects to one another. Photograph by Kelman Duran

  • A student draws on paper in the gallery.

    YI Writer Savannah practices drawing with her non-dominant hand. Photograph by Kelman Duran

  • The back of two students heads as they examine a painting up close.

    Isabel and Olivia examine one of Jay DeFeo’s works together. Photograph by Kelman Duran

  • Students stand in front of artworks in the gallery as they sketch on paper.

    Writers practice drawing details of DeFeo’s works. Photograph by Kelman Duran

In this room was by far the most astonishing piece of art in the entire exhibition of Jay DeFeo’s work. This piece is called The Rose (1958-66). The painting is fascinating. In the center, all the lines converge at one point. Luckily, I had time to fully appreciate it because we were asked to write a letter about The Rose to one person that we knew. In our letter, we had to describe The Rose.

group writes letters in front of The Rose painting

As the session draws to a close, the group gathers to write letters to Jay DeFeo’s painting The Rose (1958-66). Photograph by Kelman Duran

Later on, we had to write another letter, but this one was to The Rose itself—and to make it more difficult, we had to write the second letter with our non-dominant hand. Boy, talk about bad handwriting! After finishing that letter, we had time to walk around and see the rest of the exhibition (which included many more paintings, drawings, collages, and photographs). That was one experience I will never forget.

By Julio, Youth Insights Writer