I dragged my boyfriend at the time into the Whitney initially to show him Calder's Circus, and we stayed for the exhibit of Beat artists and culture. I didn't expect much out of the exhibit - some of the usual suspects of the visual arts in the fifties and the early sixties were thrown in: Rauschenberg, Bruce Conner, Ed Kienholz...and then I turned a corner and it hit me.
It was a portal to another world, white hot at the center and radiating outward into curling, curdling earth and dirt tones at its edges. It jumped off the wall in screaming quiet. I walked up to it slowly and couldn't believe how thick it was. It was flanked by other paintings and drawings by the same artist that were mesmerizing in a similar way, but were mere warm-ups, bridesmaids, a supporting cast to the masterpiece I was standing in front of. I couldn't leave it. It was beautiful.
"['The Rose'] passed through several stages, each one of them valid. There was a kind of archaic version at six months; then followed a very developed geometric version which gradually transformed itself into a much more organic expression. Curiously, this stage got thoroughly out of hand at one point baroque), and I managed to pull it all the way back to the final 'classic' 'Rose.' I suspect that even if I had had the space to spread out these ideas on separate canvases, the work would have proceeded on a single format alone, in as much as I felt the painting had to experience its own life-span in time."The artist had worked on it for eight years, and when an eviction notice came, the painting had to be hefted out of the studio by a forklift, as it weighed in the range of a thousand pounds from all the paint and mixed media that made up its surface. The Rose had to be bolstered, strengthened, and injected with plastics in a major restoration effort to enable it to keep its shape and color in order for it to amaze me in the Whitney that day.
Some said that Jay DeFeo died as a result of exposure to the lead white paint she used in large quantities on that canvas for eight years. She was fond of Gauloise cigarettes, however, and her lung cancer was probably due to exposure from lighting those up and inhaling their smoke more than from anything else. But she left behind one hell of an artistic legacy that will be shown off at the Whitney in an exhibition devoted to her work and only her work in 2012. I'll be making it my business to see that.
Believe me, I could yell and scream the names of many women artists every time I hear a question asking people off the street to name some. However, what I would do instead is immediately grab the people who have no clue by their throats, knock on the doors of the Whitney, and plunk those same people down in front of The Rose. Because that painting alone shows that the gross underrepresentation of women's work in the visual arts is a crime, an absolute sexist tragedy that still lingers today.
I applaud the women in the film Who Does She Think She Is?, am grateful to NOLA Femmes for highlighting it, and am going to get hold of the DVD as soon as I can.
In this day and age, why should women still have to choose between their art and their families?