Jay DeFeo. Undersoul
After the emotional, physical, and creative toll taken in making The Rose (1958–66), Jay DeFeo famously rested for a period. The camera facilitated her return to artmaking. In 1970 she began using photography as a tool to “sharpen” her perception of a work in progress, creating “visual diaries” that documented intermediate iterations along the way.1 She learned photography and film processing from her students at San Francisco Art Institute, where she taught painting and drawing classes, during a period when photography was only beginning to be accepted within the fine arts. Picking up a camera did not signal a dramatic shift in DeFeo’s practice; rather, it became integral to her painting and drawing process. Photography fit in with the artist’s career-long contemplation of elemental forms, exploring mythological and symbolic links between the cosmos, objects, and the body—the “undersoul,” as her friend, Beat poet Michael McClure, termed it in his poem Dark Brown (1961).
Dana Miller, Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2012), 35. ↩︎