Jay DeFeo

(1929 - 1989)

LAMA set a new world auction record for Bay Area artist Jay DeFeo, selling a 1982 painting Apex for $281,250 in the October 9, 2016 auction. 

About The Artist

Jay DeFeo (1929–1989) is a unique figure in post-war American art, whose work has risen to even greater prominence in the years since her death. Spanning over four decades, DeFeo’s career began in the 1950s in San Francisco, where she was a key player in the Beat generation of artists, musicians and writers in the city. This collective of Bay Area artists were known for their iconoclastic approach to mainstream culture, which stood in opposition to the ideology of the Eisenhower era. Their work incorporated everyday materials and a spontaneous attitude in order to undermine the shine and perfection perpetuated by consumer culture.

Graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a masters in 1951, DeFeo’s early work was first influenced by Abstract Expressionism, as well as her interest in African, Asian and prehistoric art forms. She began to experiment with work which blurred the boundaries between abstraction and representation, geometric and organic forms. Her innovative vision led to a diverse body of work including collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, small sculptures, and jewelry. Her work first came to wider attention in 1959 when Dorothy Miller included her in the seminal exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. Curator Walter Hopps and galleries Irving Blum presented her work in a solo exhibition at the legendary Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles the following year.

DeFeo is best known for The Rose (1958–1966), a monumental painting weighing almost one ton, which took the artist eight years to produce and possesses an almost mythical reputation, having been presumed lost for twenty years while it was hidden behind a wall. The arduous process of creating this piece, which DeFeo described as “a marriage between painting and sculpture,” led the artist to withdraw from the art world. Continuously exploratory in her approach, she began making photographs, assemblages and works using photocopying in the 1970s, eventually returning to oil painting in the 1980s. Choosing to generate works by slowly building up multiple layers, DeFeo’s late works possess the same intense energy as her early paintings.

Her work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2013 and has also recently featured in Holy Barbarians: Beat Culture on the West Coast at the Menil Collection, Houston, TX.

DeFeo’s work is included in many major institutional collections including the British Museum, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.


"The Life and Work of Jay DeFeo”. The Jay DeFeo Foundation. Web. October 26, 2016.