Jay De Feo
Jay De Feo: A Bohemian in Paris
Frank Elbaz Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Paris of Jay DeFeo (1960-1989), a San Francisco Bay Area artist who was a formative part of the Beat Generation of artists including Bruce Conner and Wallace Berman.
The exhibition of drawings, collages, painting, and black and white photography, provides an interesting cross-section of DeFeo’s work that spans her career and emphasizes the connections that link her artistic practice across mediums and time. After receiving her Master’s in Fine Art from UC Berkeley in 1951, she was awarded a fellowship which she used to travel around Europe and North Africa in 1951-52, foreshadowing the same trips her better known contemporaries like Gregory Corso and William Burroughs would make soon after. This trip was hugely formative for DeFeo and early drawings made during her time spent in Paris in 1951, already demonstrate her exploration of depth, darkness, voids and space. The swirling lines, circles and deep black stains on paper are echoed in her later work right before her death in 1989, including a series titled “Reflections of Africa,” originally inspired from her trip to Morocco, in which deep cuts built up through shadow and line bring the eye into inner cores and unexpected twists across the paper.
One of the larger works in the show is the acrylic on Masonite painting, Pend O’Reille No. 2, (Eternal Triangle series), 1980. It appears unfinished at first glance, this undeveloped form hovering in the central plane of the board, but upon closer look, that form becomes a mix of organic shapes, references to the body, to caves, and geometry.
One of the most revealing features of the show is a selection of black and white, gelatin silver prints taken by DeFeo following the removal of the monumental and legendary sculptural painting, The Rose, 1958-1966, from her Fillmore Street studio. She was at a turning point, if not blocked artistically about how to continue her career as a painter and she began taking photographs as a way to keep exploring the world through art but with an entirely new medium. The results are illuminating and underscore her vision, always capturing the shadows, voids, fragments and mystery of the natural world. Her instincts for materials and textures seen in her layered drawings and collages comes through just as strongly in these small photographs which are jewel-like in their subtle beauty. Close-ups of muddy river banks, wrapped bundles including an image of the cast from her dog, named R. Mutt, after he broke his leg, and still life’s that include broken wine glasses or cracked vases, all confirm her sharp eye for form, surface, and composition, and her continued interest in the triangle.
Also included in this series of photographs are two Untitled images from 1973 of ripped fragments of an older painting, the images of which foreshadow a large painting/collage titled Tuxedo Junction, made in 1974, and which is currently on view at the Pompidou Center in Paris as part of the “Beat Generation” exhibition. The story behind Tuxedo Junction is that when DeFeo left her Fillmore Street Studio she ripped off pieces of a painting from 1965 titled The Estacado, and kept them under her bed for a few years. They collected dust, got slightly rusty from being next to metal bed springs and so forth. We know she was at a crossroads in her career in the early 1970s, and one wonders if by looking at these pieces of painting several years later through the lens of her camera, it led to the inspiration for Tuxedo Junction, an unusual, but beautiful work that reminds us that DeFeo did not distinguish much between life and art, the two seamlessly flowing side by side, overlapping, influencing and transforming over time. The exhibition at Frank Elbaz is on view through July 30th.