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Art HERstory: Jay DeFeo

Art HERstory: Jay DeFeo

Risk takers make the world go ’round. I can only imagine where this world would be if everyone was afraid to go out on a limb and take a chance. If nobody took risks harem pants wouldn’t be a fashion trend, women wouldn’t have the rights they have, and art wouldn’t be as diverse as it is. As an emerging artist during the 1950s, Jay DeFeo (1929 – 1989) was expected to partake in the techniques used by the pop art community. Instead, Jay chose to use unconventional mediums to create her art. Her pieces started out as sketches and paintings, but eventually evolved into massive displays of raw talent.

'The Eyes' (1958). Creepy. This sketch makes my skin crawl a little. That can only mean one thing, its damn good.

Much of Jay’s inspiration came from her exposure to native art while at UC Berkeley and to her intense studies of African and prehistoric art while abroad in England. She chose to stray away from ‘the hierarchy of materials’ and made it a personal goal to use more than pencil, paper, and paints to get her point across.

There she is. 'The Rose.'

The 1950s Jay was mostly grand paintings with neutral tones . In the 1960s is when she kicked things into high gear and constructed her most well known work to date. For almost an entire decade she worked solely on The Rose, a 7.5 x 11 foot creation that weighed 2,300 pounds. The ‘painting’ is oil, wood, and mica (a mineral) layered on canvas. On some points on the canvas the layers reach up to 8 inches thick. Upon completion of this enormous piece, Jay went into hibernation for 4 years. All that work drained her.

This painting may be nameless, but the adjectives for it go on and on. It looks almost 3D and thats quite an accomplishment when using only paint.

During the seventies it was back to the basics. Jay spent her time working on drawings, paintings, and photocollages. In the eighties is when her experimentation with color began. In 1988 is when Jay’s life took a major detour. She was diagnosed with cancer. She died a year later at age 60 from her illness. Unfortunately, Jay’s style of art wasn’t respected or widely known. It wasn’t until after her passing that people began to appreciate her level of patience and talent.

Image Layout: Phaymiss

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