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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