Bruce Conner on Jay DeFeo’s The Rose

transcription from a video of SFMOMA archive, 1995, San Francisco
from Nero Magazine Issue 27, Autumn 2011

JAY DEFEO was a mixed-media artist working in the San Francisco area from 1950 to 1989. The Rose (1958–66) is her most famous work and took almost eight years to complete. Massive in scale, layered with nearly two thousand pounds (approximatively one ton) of paint, the overpowering painting was already famous before its first exhibition in 1969 at the Pasadena Art Museum. It was next exhibited in San Francisco, then stored at the San Francisco Art Institute, where it languished for twenty-five years before a historic conservation restored it to public view. The Rose now resides in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

[The Rose] passed through several stages,each one of them valid. There was a kind of archaic version at six months; then followed  a very developed geometric version which gradually transformed itself into a much more organic expression. Curiously, this stage got thoroughly out of hand at one point (baroque), and I managed to pull it all the way back to the final “classic” Rose. I suspect that even if I had had the space to spread out these ideas on separate canvases, the work would have proceeded on a single format alone, in as much as I felt the painting had to experience its own life-span in time. – JAY DEFEO, 1978


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