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AN INDEPENDENT VISIONARY : The Late Jay DeFeo Was a San Francisco Loner Whose 'Private' Art Challenges Our Everyday Notions of Form

July 12, 1990|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES ORANGE COUNTY ART CRITIC

Jay DeFeo, who died in 1989, was the mystery woman of Bay Area art. She entered the scene as a painter during the golden years of the '50s and '60s when the young funk artists, beat poets and jazz musicians were cooking up cockeyed rhapsodies and living on a dime. But at a time of social protest and exuberant in-group activities, she was an independent visionary devoting herself to what she called "private" art.

Starting Friday at the Laguna Art Museum, an exhibit organized by the University Art Museum, Berkeley, will span 38 years of DeFeo's work on paper. Often using everyday objects as a starting point, she focused on relationships of forms to create work with an abstract feel that straddled the territories of painting and drawing.

Most of the pieces in the show look like images of real-life objects in the process of disappearing or changing into another form. Sometimes it's hard to figure out just what the original object was--either because it has become so blurred and fragmentary, or because the angle chosen by DeFeo was so unusual. (Drawings of a camera tripod, a tape dispenser and a shoe tree are examples of this kind of mysterious evasion.)

DeFeo often reworked a single piece for months--a methodical approach more often associated with painting than drawing--and frequently applied several media (primarily acrylic, pastel, charcoal and wax pencil) in obsessive sequences of layers to achieve the occluded effects that she had in mind.

"The Eyes," an uncharacteristically clear-cut image, is nonetheless intrinsically related to her more obscure pieces. It is about the process of seeing, the essential subject of DeFeo's transmutations of form. The pale glow emanating from the eyes (based on DeFeo's own) suggests the focused concentration of a larger-than-life Seer--or an artist who quietly claims such powers. Clusters of fine vertical lines read as reflections from a curtain positioned between the Seer and the viewer, and rendered transparent by the intensity of the Seer's gaze.

What "Jay DeFeo: Works on Paper."

When Friday through Oct. 7. Galleries are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (Fridays until 8 p.m. in July and August), closed Mondays. Where

The Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. Whereabouts The museum is at the corner of Cliff Drive and North Coast Highway, northerly of the PCH intersection with California 133.

Wherewithal $2 for adults, $1 for seniors and children. Free for children under 12.

Where to call (714) 494-6531.

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