Studio Visits: Jerry DeFrese

A new studio provides the space, and height, for this artist's new body of work

The artist in front of some of his work
The artist in front of some of his work (Photo by Andy Campbell)

"If you're an artist, you make things," artist Jerry DeFrese says, and pauses to mull before continuing, "and things will run you out of your house." DeFrese's studio these days is an airy backyard building with expanses of white wall and narrow floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding his space with light. DeFrese would need to work overtime to run himself out of this generous space. Tucked away in corners are pieces of past projects. A tall surfboard holds court against a back wall (DeFrese admits to having been a surfer sometime ago.) It is painted the bright neon chroma that patterns his latest body of work: shaped paintings on cardboard that either lean or hang on the wall in large groups.

Austin Chronicle: This is a new space for you, right?

Jerry DeFrese: Yes, it's basically a year old.

AC: Where was your studio before? What was it like?

JD: Well, this is a bittersweet story. Before I bought this place, my wife and I lived nearby. My studio was a garage studio. My parents were aging, and we thought it was best if we all lived together. So we moved over here, because it had the kind of space we needed. This space [the studio] was going to be my parents' apartment, but they both passed away before we could finish it. That's why we bought this house, initially, and this was originally a garage, but I expanded the space and pushed the walls out. Now it's become my studio.

AC: Did you do the building expansion yourself?

JD: No, that was part of the deal I contracted out because I needed to get it done. That was a year and a half, two years ago. It all happened fast, and at the time I was taking care of my parents. I wasn't making work.

AC: Do you feel like you've had some time since to begin making work again and to reassign the space?

JD: Yeah, everything you see in here has been done within the last year.

AC: Pretty prolific for a year! Is the height of the room part of this new work?

JD: Well, I've never really had height – or rather I've been in some industrial spaces, but not consistently. You use what you have as an artist. Whether it's your desk or a room. We lived full time in an RV for three years, and in that environment I would make small pieces and then put them together. It's psychological – the more space you have ...

AC: It looks like a nice space for hanging and rearranging your work. Was that part of this series – that you could rearrange them?

JD: When I start work, I don't know what exactly it is I'm doing. The work seems to have a life of its own and you follow that path. These [sign paintings] are one thing on their own but another thing when they're all together. And that was by accident; I started stacking them against the wall to get them out of the way so I could make something else. That's the fun part! If I knew where the work was going, it wouldn't be fun.

"Jerry DeFrese: not yet" is currently on view Saturdays, 11am-2pm, at Gay Fay Kelly, 2023 E. Cesar Chavez. For more information, visit For a full look at Jerry DeFrese's studio, visit

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Jerry DeFrese, Austin visual art

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