Anglim Gilbert Gallery is pleased to present Jess: Secret Compartments, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and collaborative works by Jess Collins dating from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. Collins (August 6, 1923 - January 2, 2004), now known simply as Jess, left his scientific career for the arts after his involvement in the development of the Manhattan Project and the Hanford Atomic Energy Project. Subsumed by the threat of destruction posed by nuclear weapons, Jess enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute (then called the California School of the Arts). An openly gay man, he was the longtime partner of poet Robert Duncan. Jess and Duncan founded King Ubu Gallery with painter Harry Jacobus in 1952, which has since become a historical touchstone for the San Francisco beat era. The exhibition indexes Jess’ most important series — including his Romantic and Erotic works, as well as his Translations, Salvages, and Paste-Ups.This marks the first time this traveling exhibition, organized by the Jess Collins Trust and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, will be shown in San Francisco.
Jess’ first major body of work, known as his Romantic series, dates from the early to mid-1950s. Created shortly after leaving art school in San Francisco, and influenced by teachers Clyfford Still and Edward Corbett, these works are colorful, impressionistically painted landscapes, featuring figures or moody abstractions. Here, Jess expertly melds his lifelong fascination with fantasy, legend, and storytelling. These interests, along with literary, scientific, historical, and mythical source materials, encapsulate the “constellation” of Jess’ personal archive and artistic concerns.
The Paste-Ups, Jess’ most iconic series of works, originated out of his discovery of Max Ernst’s collages and the writing of James Joyce. Jess’ collages, which he dubbed Paste-Ups, in reference to their scrapbook nature, were drawn from his vast collection of ephemera from San Francisco bookshops and junk stores. The Paste-Up method allowed Jess to integrate his wide range of interests, working and reworking found images until they were woven into a tapestry. Even a small Paste-Up could be made up of over 100 separate images, each sliced and manipulated with a special X-acto knife on a pivoting table. According to Jess scholar and curator, Michael Auping, Jess said of his Paste-Ups, “Our [he and Robert Duncan] lives are essentially a grand collage of fantastical images in books, paintings and puzzles from inside the house and my imagination of the world outside the house (where Jess seldom ventured).”
Explicit homoeroticism and the use of Greek and Roman mythological tropes link Jess’ series of Erotic paintings and graphite studies for Narkissos — Jess’ monumental pencil on paper Paste-Up, now in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His Erotic works are a precursor to the final Narkissos, which was conceived in 1959 and completed in 1991. Jess described the piece as, “… grand obsession, and obsessions don’t always have a logical or perfect conclusion. When I made that first little drawing (1959), I saw immediately that it was a vision capable of expanding into great complexity. In the second drawing (1964), I elaborated the field of possibilities and then the Paste-Up took me years and lured me into what still seems to me to be an endless magical realm].”