Though at an early stage in her career, and married to Wally Hedrick at the time she appeared at the “6” Gallery, De Feo would soon become influential as a painter and educator among many Bay Area artists. Even in the mid-1950s, her work represented an alternative to the mainstream of Abstract Expressionism. While some artists returned to the figure, De Feo carried action painting into the realm of sculpture. Triggered by Abstract Expressionism, her early pictures were often executed in black and white and a vast, sensuous range of gray. These works are characterized by a deep, forceful sense of movement. Some are like cascades, or fountains of pure energy frozen onto the canvas. Often, their titles refer to mythic or religious subjects.
In 1959, two years after she had completed her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, De Feo was featured in “Sixteen Americans”, a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York–the exhibition that also introduced Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to the American public. During the same period, she also began work on “The Rose,” a Bay Area legend and a massive painting that required a number of years and a great many pounds of paint to complete.