The Persistence of Form: Introduction

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In his “Forms” entry for Marxism and Literature Raymond Williams distinguishes between two senses of form. One has to do with the identification and description of “available forms” and their attendant “rules,” the other with the “active making of forms,” a “shaping impulse” by which forms of expression, of sociality, of being in the world more generally become identifiable as forms. “Form,” Williams concludes, “thus spans a whole range from the external and superficial to the essential and determining.”[1]

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Jess: West Coast Scene Painting

“When something makes the scene too fast it’s gotta be minor.”

                                    Clement Greenberg, Painters Painting

  Jess Collins (known simply as Jess) was a multi-media artist with a penchant for the personal. His work is deeply hermetic, addressed to an audience of intimates, and seemingly untroubled by its wider role in the history of art. A suspicion of publicity is typical of the scene with which Jess was associated: the so-called “San Francisco Renaissance,” a largely literary movement identified with poets such as a Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Kenneth Rexroth. At the center of this scene stood Jess and Duncan, his husband, who pulled a large and interdisciplinary group of artists into their orbit. Jess’s diverse body of work—which includes expressionist paintings, illustrated books of poetry and children’s stories done in collaboration with friends, “paste-ups” (montages that take a cue from Max Ernst) and his well-known “Tricky Cad” series (an absurdist, cut-and-paste intervention into the Dick Tracy comic strip)—is filled with a personal iconography that often extends no further than the scene in which he lived and the man with whom he shared his life.

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