Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) began taking photographs in depth in 1970, shortly after the completion of her monumental 2000-pound marriage of painting and sculpture, The Rose (1958–1966), and her move from San Francisco to the relative seclusion of Marin County, California. Over the next five years, DeFeo engaged in a restless exploration of herself and her surroundings through the camera, producing an extraordinary wealth of deeply poetic images. With over seventy unique photographs, photocollages and photocopies, the exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery will be the largest ever presentation of DeFeo’s photographic works, and the first exhibition devoted to DeFeo’s experiments across photographic media. Together with the new monograph Jay DeFeo: Photographic Work (DelMonico, 2023), with essays by Hilton Als, Judith Delfiner, Corey Keller, Justine Kurland, Dana Miller and Catherine Wagner, the exhibition sets the stage for serious consideration of DeFeo’s innovations in the medium of photography.
DeFeo was teaching painting at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1970s, and the photography students in her classes became her first guides to darkroom printing. The influence of the “straight photography” style of the SFAI’s photography department, founded by Ansel Adams in 1945, can be discerned in DeFeo’s exquisite studies of tangling branches and tropical leaves, delicate still lives and urban views. This classical influence, albeit untraditionally imparted, was complemented by a dialogue with unconventional artist peers such as Bruce Conner and Wallace Berman, as DeFeo expanded her photographic style into a thoroughly idiosyncratic practice. A series of chemigrams dedicated to Salvador Dalí embody DeFeo’s surrealist impulses, while wild combinations of torn and cut-out prints blossom into dreamlike photocollages.
A conversation on the Jay DeFeo: Photographic Work monograph co-produced by Paula Cooper Gallery and 192 Books will take place at 521 West 21st Street at 7pm on Tuesday, September 19th. Author Corey Keller will be joined in conversation by Elisabeth Sherman, Senior Curator, Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York.