Review: Jay DeFeo show offers a provocative sketch of a California artist finding her voice


Fourteen paintings on paper by Bay Area artist Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) offer a provocative thumbnail sketch of a crucial period in the artist’s development.

She tagged her extended 1952 stay working in a studio in Florence, Italy, as a foundational episode in her career. DeFeo made around 200 paintings on paper that summer, and these works from 1951 to 1954 frame the moment.

Tempera, acrylic, ink, chalk and graphite are sometimes densely applied, sometimes softly layered, often mixed together in dramatic and luminous ways. The list of materials speaks to her exploratory momentum.


DeFeo is up-to-the-minute in her awareness of Abstract Expressionism exemplified by the San Francisco and New York Schools. But, unsurprisingly given her determination to experience European art history first-hand, she is also plainly interested in a visual mindfulness of earlier strata of time. Layers of roughly built-up geometric shapes emphasize the paintings’ pentimento, which pokes through from beneath the surface, while radiant light was perhaps inspired by a visit to North Africa.

Thom Mayne’s Morphosis plans an L.A. center with a windowless facade that spurs curiosity and sculptural forms that echo the mountains of Korea.

Aug. 12, 2019

In about one-third of these examples, the paper is torn and irregularly shaped. (Most works have dimensions of 1 or 2 feet.) Some include paint-slathered collage, and one is done on hotel stationery. The painting is objectified, neither window nor mirror on outer or inner worlds, but a circumstance all its own.

Forms remain abstract, although hints of body parts — an eye, a limb — and suggestions of plants, trees and buildings can be glimpsed. DeFeo typically clusters her gestural geometry within larger fields of color, although texture dominates these bracing works. Often bold and assertive, the best come across as primordial place-making exercises.

Jay DeFeo

Where: Marc Selwyn Fine Art, 9953 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Sept. 14
Info: (310) 277-9953,