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  Jess  (1923 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: modernist-real fantasy pastiche, surrealism

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1923 (Long Beach, California)
2004 (San Francisco, California)


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modernist-real fantasy pastiche, surrealism

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The artist Jess was born Burgess Collins in 1923 in Long Beach California.  Jess initially was educated as a chemist and in his career worked on the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project.  In 1949 he abandoned his scientific career and moved to San Francisco where he enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts.  Burgess Collins then changed his name to "Jess."  n 1951 Jess met poet, Robert Duncan, and began a relationship that lasted until Duncan's death in 1988.

Duncan and Jess worked together to expand and refine a study of world literature and art focused in myths, symbols and archetypes.  The couple was active in the Bay Area poetry and art scene.  They were good friends with Jay Spicer, Helen Adam, Wallace Berman, Patricia Jordan, Jay DeFeo and Michael McClure.  With painter Harry Jacobus the pair ran the King Ubu Gallery in 1952-1953.

Jess created collages to make political and social commentary as well as narrative landscapes.  His strongest group of work was Translations (1959-1976) which consisted of 32 paintings of odd images schematically outlined and rendered in a paint by number style canvas.  Jess's final work was a six by five foot drawing titled, Narkissos a tableau of symbolic imagery from Greek myths.

Jess died January 2, 2004 from natural causes.

Michael Duncan, Art in America, March 2004

This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California:

Jess was born on August 6, 1923 in Long Beach, California.  He studied painting at the California School of Fine Arts with abstract painters like Clyfford Still, Edward Corbett and Hassel Smith.  In 1959 he began a series of pictures called translations,  copies of children's book illustrations, or old snapshots.  They looked straightforward in reproduction, but they were built up out of many layers of pigment until they resembled a bas-relief.  He painted "paste-ups". enormous collages that were bewilderingly complex.  There were also the salvages, early paintings of his own, or others he found, transformed with strange new encrustations.   

Looking at Jess’ art is like watching a theatrical performance.  After taking in its major outlines, you get lost in a maze of detail and then emerge to find yourself looking at a different work.   

When Jess was in his twenties, he dropped his last name, California style.   

Sources include:   
John Ashbery in Newsweek, April 26, 1982   
Who's Who in American Art, R.R. Bowker, 1993-4.

Biography from Gallery Paule Anglim:
Jess' unique imagery, evolved from mythology and fables both playful and profound, has long been admired by critics, curators and writers.  Using paper collage or his eccentric painting techniques, Jess did pictures that reference ancient stories and invented symbols, a private world of delicate beauty and gentle absurdity.


1948 B.S., California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
University of California, Berkeley, CA
California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA


"Jess; A Grand Collage, 1951-1993," Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY

"Jess: The Romantic Paintings," Palo Alto Cultural Center, CA

"Jess: Emblems for Robert Duncan," San Jose Museum of Art, CA

"Jess: Translations, Salvages and Paste-Ups," Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

The Arts Club Chicago, Chicago, IL

University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY


“Poetry and its Arts: Bay Area Interactions 1954-2004,” California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA

“Art from Around the Bay,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA

Royal Academy of Arts, London, England

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,D.C.

Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX

National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.


Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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