Jay DeFeo, Untitled (Tree series), 1953. Tempera on paper, 11 3/4 x 17 inches (29.8 x 43.2 cm). JDF no. E3020. Collection Laguna Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Merle S. Glick, 1991.077 © 2024 The Jay DeFeo Foundation/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


What's it all about?

Fresh from more than a year spent in Europe and North Africa, artist Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) returned home to Northern California in 1953. In her Berkeley studio DeFeo looked to nature as inspiration, employing the artistic language she developed while in Florence to fuse modes of representation with approaches to abstraction in a group of drawings that make up Jay DeFeo: Trees.

Trees also features a selection of DeFeo’s photographs of trees captured in the Bay Area during the early 1970s when she began focusing on black-and-white photography. DeFeo took this aspect of her practice with the utmost seriousness, and it was integral to her artmaking. Accompanying these artworks will be a selection of archival materials highlighting the artist’s enduring fascination with trees and nature.

Jay DeFeo: Trees will be presented at Laguna Art Museum in Fall 2024 during its annual Art + Nature initiative, providing a framework for exploring the artist’s work within the wide-reaching context of the California environment through special public programs and educational engagements for a range of audiences.

Jay DeFeo: Trees is organized by Laguna Art Museum and guest curated by Rochelle Steiner. The exhibition and publication have received generous support from The Jay DeFeo Foundation and The Segerstrom Foundation.



Jay DeFeo (1929–1989) was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BA in 1950 and MA in 1951 from the University of California, Berkeley. Over the course of a career spanning four decades, DeFeo experimented with a range of materials, exploring painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, photocopying, and photography, often in unorthodox ways.

DeFeo was a pivotal figure in the historic Beat community of artists, poets, and jazz musicians in San Francisco. Her first major solo exhibition was held at the Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco, in 1959, and the same year she was included in Dorothy Miller’s historic exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Championed on the West Coast by curator Walter Hopps, DeFeo was included in group exhibitions at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and had a solo exhibition there in 1960. She completed her monumental work The Rose in 1966 after laboring over it for eight years. First exhibited in 1969 at the Pasadena Art Museum, the work was subsequently installed at the San Francisco Art Institute, before being acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1995. In 2012 the Whitney organized Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective, which premiered at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her work has been the subject of many exhibitions and publications, including Jay DeFeo: The Ripple Effect, Le Consortium, Dijon, France in 2018, which traveled to Aspen Art Museum and Undersoul: Jay DeFeo, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California in 2019.

Throughout her career, DeFeo taught at the San Francisco Art Institute; California College of the Arts, Oakland; and Mills College, Oakland, where she was tenured faculty from 1981 to 1989. DeFeo’s works are in the collections of many museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Menil Collection, Houston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Tate Modern, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.



Dr. Rochelle Steiner is a Los Angeles–based curator, writer and educator, and serves as a Curatorial Fellow for Laguna Art Museum. Previously, she was chief curator and director of public programs and education at Palm Springs Art Museum; associate director and chief curator at Vancouver Art Gallery; director of the Public Art Fund, New York; chief curator at the Serpentine Gallery, London; and associate curator of contemporary art, Saint Louis Art Museum. She has curated monographic exhibitions of the works of Glenn Brown, John Currin, Gabriel Orozco, Elizabeth Peyton, Cindy Sherman, Gary Simmons, Monika Sosnowska and Rirkrit Tiravanija as well as forthcoming exhibitions on Carole Caroompas, Lari Pittman and Fred Tomaselli. Her recent publications include Sarah Charlesworth (DelMonico•Prestel, 2017) and Do Ho Suh Drawings (DelMonico•Prestel, 2014).


Exhibition Sponsors

Laguna Art Museum thanks our exhibition sponsors.


Jay DeFeo Foundtion

The Segerstrom Foundation


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