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Jess Exhibition Opens in Sacramento
Artist Jess Collins, simply known as Jess, and poet Robert Duncan met in 1950 at a time of great cultural ferment in San Francisco. The San Francisco Renaissance, in which poets and artists came together at small galleries, is best known for Beat poets, such as Allen Ginsberg, and Beat artists like Bruce Conner.
Jess and Duncan, who had a romantic as well as an artistic partnership, were right in the middle of things, at the center of a circle of more than 30 poets and artists who frequented their households in the Mission District and at Stinson Beach. The show, which opens at the Crocker Art Museum on June 9, includes approximately 160 works, from large paintings and small sculptures to illustrated poems, letters, and posters done for Pauline Kael’s Cinema Guild movie showings in Berkeley.
Jess, who had served in the army and subsequently worked as a scientist on the Manhattan Project, suffered a crisis of conscience that led him to change his goals. In 1948, he moved to San Francisco and enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts where he studied with Clifford Still, Hassel Smith, Edward Corbett and other members of the legendary faculty assembled by Douglas McAgy.
In addition to Jess’s paste-ups, the show will include a host of other Jessoterica:
There are also bios of artists in the Jess-Duncan circle, among them Corbett, George Herms, Wallace Berman and the actor-artist Dean Stockwell. Many of their names are unfamiliar to me, but I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Lynn Brockway, Ronald Bladen, Nemi Frost and Harry Jacobus, with whom Jess and Duncan started the legendary avant-garde gallery King Ubu.
In addition to the collages, the show includes a number of paintings that Jess called “Translations,” in which he painted over found imagery or photographs with thick paint applied in a paint-by-number style. Among these are a scene of a soccer game that references the Mayan ball game and “The Enamord Mage,” an intimate portrait of Duncan in his study with books that gave him inspiration for his poems.
Add this to the “not to be missed” column!