“Interest in the fragmented body is a thread through DeFeo’s work, from the very beginning to the very end,” says Levy. She points to the earliest work in the show, a small 1955 painting of a vase of daisies that can be read as a head and neck. One of the last works in the show, the large 1986 painting Untitled (Reclining Figure), which has never been exhibited, suggests an odalisque. The model was actually the curved arm of a chair in her studio.
Just as DeFeo deferred assigning any specific meaning to The Rose other than its compositional relationship to the way rose petals are formed, she preferred that the subjects in her paintings and drawings remain ambiguous. “These fleeting images truly are like dreams,” the artist once said, adding that she was attempting to “portray the esthetic harmony resulting from the uniting of the geometric and organic forms.”
“The Ripple Effect,” which will travel to the Aspen Art Museum
in June after Dijon, is built around four groupings of works based on a looped handle broken off a coffee cup, the leaves of a cabbage plant, a collection of used erasers that DeFeo kneaded into sculptural forms, and a draped tripod that assumes animate characteristics. From each of these models, “DeFeo did works back and forth across media, across scale,” says Levy of these acrylics, photographs, collages, and drawings. “She looked at things from all angles.”