Biographical / Historical
Expressionist and symbolist painter, photographer, and educator Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) was a central figure in the progressive community of artists, poets, and musicians of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s-1960s. She devoted eight years to producing her most celebrated painting, The Rose, and was known for her endlessly experimental cross-disciplinary work in painting, drawing, photography, and collage.
DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, and was three years old when her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended the University of California Berkeley and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in studio art in 1950-1951. She then traveled for eighteen months on a scholarship to France, Spain, North Africa, and Italy and spent six months in Florence producing her first significant body of work.
DeFeo returned to San Francisco in 1953 and married fellow artist Wally Hedrick in 1954. The couple rented a Victorian flat at 2322 Fillmore Street and actively participated in Beat counterculture, throwing large parties for their friends including artists, musicians, painters, poets, and photographers. Joan and Bill Brown were neighbors and the four artists shared ideas and space to such an extent that they cut a door in an adjoining wall so they could come and go between their two apartments with ease.
DeFeo's first solo exhibition was held at the Dilexi Gallery in 1959, and Dorothy Miller selected her work for her landmark Sixteen Americans exhibition the same year. After an exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1960, DeFeo turned down other gallery affiliations to work almost exclusively on The Rose. Completed in the Fillmore Street flat in 1966, DeFeo's monumental work was first exhibited at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1969, and was later moved to the San Francisco Art Institute to await conservation.
DeFeo and Hedrick divorced in 1969, and DeFeo moved to Larkspur in Marin County to regroup from personal set-backs and the draining experience of working on The Rose. She taught part-time at various art institutions in California, and in 1981 moved to Oakland and joined the art faculty at Mills College, becoming a tenured professor in 1986. She worked prolifically as an artist to the end of her life.
The Rose underwent extensive conservation and in 1995 was purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art for the museum's permanent collection. DeFeo's work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe and can be found in the collections of major museums throughout the United States and abroad.