Recently the Whitney revealed its newest show featuring the work of abstract painter and photographer Jay DeFeo. Her career, which began in the 1950s in the San Francisco Beat community, has largely gone under the radar but this exhibition brings her back into the spotlight with an incredible range of nearly 150 works, including collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and jewelry.
Significantly influenced by her travels through Europe and North Africa, DeFeo set up shop in Italy and started creating her first significant body of work. Her fascinations with Asian, African, and prehistoric art helped inform her unconventional approach to materials, setting her apart from other abstract artists of the time. Sculptural paintings like The Jewel and The Verónica flaunt her magnificent use of layering oil paint. At the heart of the museum's gallery is DeFeo's seminal piece The Rose, which weighs an astonishing 2,300 pounds and took eight years to finish. Daunting in size, the piece looks like a beautiful earthly artifact that draws you into its center point with the force of a vortex. From across the room, The Eyes (a large sketch of her own eyes) stare intensely at The Rose––a reference to her creative vision.
After a four-year hiatus from making art, DeFeo traded in her paintbrushes for a camera in 1969. This photography endeavor is the focus of the second part of the exhibition. DeFeo became deeply involved with the medium, experimenting with chemigrams, photograms, and photo-collage. The subjects of her pictures were often domestic objects, plants, and her own teeth (which had started to fall out because of the lead in the oil paint she used). She would eventually return to making large-scale oil paintings, but ended up preferring smaller, more intimate pieces at the end of her career. The exhibition pays a long overdue tribute to a truly innovative figure in American art.
Through June 2nd, 2013.
THE WHITNEY MUSEUM
945 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021 MAP