Jay DeFeo. Bohemian Rhapsody

Jay DeFeo working on Deathrose, ca. 1958.
defeo working on a 10 foot panel of work in her studio
Jay DeFeo working on Deathrose, ca. 1958. Photo by Jerry Burchard © Estate of Jerry Burchard. Used with permission.

Born in 1929 in Hanover, New Hampshire, Jay DeFeo spent most of her life in the Bay Area, moving to San José with her mother during junior high school when her parents divorced. She studied art from 1946 to 1951 at the University of California, Berkeley, returning for the summers to San José, where her mother ran a women’s boarding house for San Jose State University students and the young artist worked for the San Jose Paint Company.1 After her MA program at Berkeley, DeFeo traveled abroad on a university scholarship—first to Europe, then North Africa. When she returned to California, the Beat movement was in full swing. DeFeo shared an apartment with artist Wally Hedrick at the famed 2322 Fillmore Street flat, which “was a crossroads for local and visiting artists, musicians, and poets, including Joan Brown, Michael and Joanna McClure, Bruce and Jean Conner, and Wallace Berman.”2 She helped Hedrick open his cooperative Six Gallery in San Francisco—their “baby”—where Allen Ginsberg famously performed his first reading of Howl to the public.3 For over a decade, during which time DeFeo was working on her heroic painting The Rose (1958–66), the artist was at the center of the bohemian artist community in San Francisco.

  1. Harry Powers, letter to Susan Krane, no date, San José Museum of Art exhibition archive. ↩︎

  2. Lauren Schell Dickens, “Through the Aperture: The Circular Approaches of Jay DeFeo, in Undersoul: Jay DeFeo (San José, California: San José Museum of Art, 2019), 10. ↩︎

  3. Dana Miller, Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012), 19. ↩︎