Jay DeFeo's Alter Ego at the Hosfelt Gallery

I'm collecting my strength; one day I shall manage without her,
And she'll perish with emptiness then, and begin to miss me.
— from In Plaster by Sylvia Plath

There are no faces or bodies peopling the walls at the Hosfelt Gallery’s current exhibit of Jay DeFeo: Alter Ego. The paintings and photographs are memorials to bruises, burnt out remnants of a fetal soul, psychic snapshots of gnarled scars and contusions. DeFeo’s palette is celebrated for the way it honors the multiplicity of shadow and how it co-exists with light — the plainer twin who makes her sister’s appearance more complex. These are the inhabitants of a moonscape, and they are welcoming us to the barren lands.

One series of drawings hangs in triplicate on a far wall: a nun’s habit, perhaps, holding the upright face of a ghost that cannot quite be seen. Their beauty lies in the play of ascending shades, from a blackened murk to a heaven sent washed out white. Or are they merely fallen linens draped atop a hidden finial? Hermann Rorschach w ould have a field day wandering through the gallery.

Six charcoal sketches of a single, ordinary shoe summon up the feet of those busy Dutch peasants gathering wheat and planting potatoes in the 19th century. The close proximity of drawing to drawing animates the lot. They come alive in gesturing toward the curve of an ankle, a fulsome calf, an outstretched hand in a state of removal.

The alter ego or “Other I” of the show’s title accounts for the abundance of pairs on display, often in different media. The theme of an abstracted geological gelatin silver print expands on a vaster canvas to its right. DeFeo once wrote in her Statement of Visual Concerns, “In my ‘circular attitude’ toward my work — work in progress is very often related and linked to past images.” The photograph and the painting echo and resonate with each other, even if conceived of and created years apart.

Commanding attention in the main salon are Hawk Moon No. 1 and Hawk Moon No. 2. They have achieved the quality of airlessness, or the end result of biology in outer space, the contortions of a body imploding, unprotected by man-made metals, and comforted by nothing. Even the photographs of hands are displayed like embalmed things, ready for a cloth-lined coffin. Once, they might have belonged to your grandmother (she held you close and kept the darkness at bay). But how still they are now! and connected to no one. The work housed here isn’t just a collection of curiosities and artifacts from the artist’s estate: it’s where the second self has come to reside, without the need of a body.

Jay DeFeo: Alter Ego, through Oct. 10, at Hosfelt Gallery, 260 Utah Street.

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