Jay De Feo The Rose, 1958-66 128 7/8 x 92 1/4 x 11 inches Oil on canvas with wood and mica Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of the Estate of Jay DeFeo and purchase, with funds from the Contemporary
by Jay de Feo
The Rose, the monumental work that the Whitney Museum helped save and now owns, almost literally illustrates DeFeo's transformative process. For the first seven years of her work on it (1958-65), the painting occupied a bay window area in her apartment, with its back toward the main windows and light streaming in from the side windows. At first it was called Deathrose("Death Throes", as Lucy Lippard noticed, "Death Rows," or "Death Rays"), with a burst of rays focused off-center like The Eyes. The painting at that point had an asymmetrical focal point into which everything vanished. But gradually, as DeFeo chipped away at it and added to it, the painting took on life, was centered on an even larger canvas, and ultimately became The Rose, nurtured by the light coming through the windows at its back and sides and the artist at its front. In his brilliant essay for the book that accompanies the show (Jay DeFeo and The Rose, Jane Green and Leah Levy, eds., University of California Press, 2003), Richard Cándida Smith writes, "She aimed for a revelation of the emergence of order, establishing its inescapable mystery by placing the source of the emergence in a physically impossible space on the other side of the canvas." The painting, in all its changes and thicknesses, is between two places, the universe outside the window and the one inside Jay DeFeo.