An Artist, An Influence: Jay DeFeo

“Hawk Moon No. 1,” oil on canvas, by Jay DeFeo. Estate no. E1382b. All images ©2009 Estate of Jay DeFeo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

I have always been intrigued by the lives of women artists, especially how they navigated the creative process and issues of family and mortality. The great Jay DeFeo was one of these women, and she has had a great influence on my development as an artist. She was a beat generation painter and photographer. Like myself, DeFeo worked in multiple mediums and focused on abstract work. I had the honor to meet her in the last year of her life when she taught at Mills College in Oakland, California. I had been considering the graduate program at Mills when I spent time talking with her about my future and her past as an artist. From her, I learned that the creative process could be more instinctual and less formal. It was a liberating lesson.

Jay DeFeo employed a process that was very free and spontaneous, creating beautiful, emotionally charged images. She wrote, “Only by chancing the ridiculous can I hope for the sublime. Only by discovering that which is true within myself can I hope to be understood by others.”

Untitled photocollage by Jay DeFeo. Estate no. E2303. All images ©2009 Estate of Jay DeFeo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Because of her tragic early death from cancer, she knew that an artist has only a brief window of time to leave his or her mark. Her legacy to me was that great artwork must be made through urgency and passion. To fully develop oneself an artist must devote a lifetime to his or her work. Whenever I feel frustrated with my art, I think of her message, and I persevere. I know that the making of the work alone is the purpose. Her work can be seen at

Stephanie Trenchard is a painter and glass sculptor living and working in Sturgeon Bay. Her work can be found at