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Jay DeFeo
Incision, 1958-1960

Although Jay DeFeo identified herself as a painter, she recognized that her artwork “could more accurately be described as a combination of painting and sculpture. I consider the aspects of each inseparable and interdependent, the process being one of building and carving, but always in reference to the properties of paint as a medium.”

This heroically sized painting teeters on the brink of sculpture, with more than five hundred pounds of paint encrusted on its surface. Applying layer after layer of oil pigment to canvas, then scraping or dragging a trowel through the paint with broad strokes, DeFeo produced crags and crevices that reveal ragged textures and underlying layers of color, suggesting built-up geological sediment. With dangling strings indicative of sinews, the work invokes a sense of living or decaying tissue.

Often conceiving of works in small groups, DeFeo initially designed Incision as the left-hand panel of a triptych. A broad V would have extended across all three canvases, with a green heart spanning the middle and right sections. Prone to laboring endlessly over her creations, she ultimately abandoned the project; the center panel was lost or destroyed and the right one never completed.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Incision
Artist name
Jay DeFeo
Date created
1958-1960
Classification
painting
Medium
oil and string on board and canvas
Dimensions
118 in. × 55 5/8 in. × 9 3/8 in. (299.72 cm × 141.29 cm × 23.81 cm)
Date acquired
1967
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase with the aid of funds from the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art
Copyright
© The Jay DeFeo Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/67.89
Artwork status
On view on floor 4 as part of Approaching American Abstraction.

The looming stature and hundreds of pounds of oil paint that form the craggy gray surface of Incision call to mind a landslide. The title alludes to the techniques behind its sculptural crevices: DeFeo used palette knives and brushes to build up and carve into the many layers of pigment. Some ridges were also shaped by underlying rows of string. DeFeo refined the artwork over two years of sustained adjustments, additions, and subtractions. Although it was originally conceived to be the first panel of a V-shaped triptych, it evolved into a stand-alone monolith that attests to DeFeo’s dedication to letting a painting develop in its own time.

Gallery text, 2017

Other Works by Jay DeFeo

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