National Museum of Women in the Arts
Jay DeFeo
March 31 1929 - November 11 1989
Photograph of Jay DeFeo, 1976, by Mimi Jacobs. 14 x 11 inches (35 x 27 cm). Photographs of artists taken by Mimi Jacobs, 1971-1981. Archives of American Art, Washington, DC, USA.
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
jay deh-FAY-oh
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works, Drawings and prints, Painting, Photography, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Collagist, Draftsperson, Jewelry Maker, Mixed Media Artist , Oil Painter, Painter, Photographer, Photomontagist, Sculptor
Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism , Other
Artist's Biography:
Mary Joan DeFeo was born in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1929. After the divorce of her parents in 1930, she and her mother relocated to San Jose, California. It was during high school in San Jose that teachers fostered DeFeo’s love for art, and it was also at that time that she became known as “Jay” among her friends. DeFeo eventually earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of California, Berkeley in 1951.

DeFeo was the first female student to receive the prestigious University of California’s Sigmund Martin Heller Traveling Fellowship. The award allowed the young artist to travel extensively throughout the United States, Europe and North Africa over a period of eighteen months. For sixth months she settled in Florence, studying the architecture of the city, which is said to have cultivated her love of geometric forms. After her return to Berkeley, DeFeo married the artist Wally Hendricks in 1954. The couple moved to a large house that they shared with a rotating group of fellow artists, poets, and musicians including Wallace Berman, Sonia Gechtoff, and Jack Kerouac. Though DeFeo was surrounded by scores of artistic, literary, and political luminaries, she resisted being identified with the style or ideology of any one group. During this highly prolific time, DeFeo experimented with a number of media including large-scale sculptures, jewelry making, and semi-abstract paintings. Toward the end of the 1950s, DeFeo began working on The Rose, her most famous work to date. For eight years, the making of this monumental piece–a cross between a painting and a sculpture–consumed DeFeo not only financially, but also emotionally and physically. The Rose, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, is a composition boasting DeFeo’s trademark grey, black and white hues. After completing the piece, the artist completely withdrew from painting for three years.

In the early 1970s, DeFeo began to shift her attention to photography, utilizing the new medium in order to achieve the layered effect that had characterized her paintings. Her series Tripod (1978) utilized mixed media and featured a camera tripod draped with a cloth as its subject. DeFeo continued to make art until her untimely death at the age of sixty due to lung cancer.

DeFeo was a professor of art at a number of institutions, and during her teaching career she influenced many young artists, including Manuel Neri. Among the many honors DeFeo received, are an Honorary Doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1982 and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985.

Other Occupation(s):
Model, Professor, Traveler
Place(s) of Residence:
San Francisco
Where Trained/Schools:
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (1946-1951)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Wally Hedrick friend of Edward Kienholz friend of and collaborated with Wallace Berman friend and colleague of Frank Lobdell friend and colleague of Elmer Bischoff friend and colleague of Bruce Conner friend and colleague of Sonia Gechtoff friend and colleague of James Kelly friend and colleague of Craig Kauffman friend and colleague of Deborah Remington friend and colleague of Hayward King friend and colleague of David Simpson friend and colleague of John Allen Ryan friend and colleague of Jack Spicer friend and colleague of Joan Brown friend and classmate of Sam Francis friend and classmate of Fred Martin student of John Haley student of Erle Loran student of and influenced by Margaret Peterson O’Hagan influenced by Jackson Pollock influenced by Pablo Picasso influenced by Hans Hofmann friend of and influenced Manuel Neri
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1985) Honorary Doctorate, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA (1982) Sigmund Martin Heller Traveling Fellowship, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (1951-1952)
Earliest exhibition:
Jay DeFeo, The Place, San Francisco, CA, USA (1954)
NMWA exhibition(s):
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
Artist retrospective(s):
Jay DeFeo: Selected Works 1952-1989, Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1996) Jay DeFeo: Works on Paper, University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA, USA (1990)
Related places
Oakland (died at)