In search of meaning, Jay DeFeo pushed the boundaries of all the media she used. She was an active artist in San Francisco during the Beat Generation – part of the anti-establishment cultural phenomenon of the 1960s. DeFeo explored drawing, collage, and painting with unorthodox materials but she is best known for her paintings. She is quoted as saying, “Only by chancing the ridiculous can I hope for the sublime.”
DeFeo and some of her contemporaries shared a romantic fascination with mountain climbing. This, along with DeFeo’s childhood memories of summers on her maternal grandparents’ ranch in Colorado, was likely the inspiration for her Mountain Series in 1955. DeFeo’s large-scale, thickly painted works project a sense of the mountain surface. While color, especially vibrant reds, was an inherent part of DeFeo’s earlier works, her palette became gradually more muted, almost grisaille (painting in gray-scale to imitate sculpture) style. Texture was for DeFeo what color was for other artists: the main, eye-holding, expressive element. DeFeo actually objected to the idea that color was not important to her work. She argued that textural quality almost took on a color since she used so much texture. In Mountain No. 1, the gray, low-key muted palette with thickness and thinness of paint create an austere yet romantic mood.
Artist: Jay DeFeo
Title: Mountain No. 1
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimension: 25 1/2 x 55 5/8 in. (64.77 x 141.29 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art
Copyright: ©2019 The Jay DeFeo Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York