Jess

Looking Past Seeing Through

January 16 – February 22, 2014

Press Release

The Tibor de Nagy Gallery is pleased to present its fourth exhibition of works by the celebrated painter and collage artist Jess (Collins), a leading light of the 1950s Bay Area renaissance of artists and poets, and one of the most original American artists of the second half of the 20th century. The exhibition coincides with “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle,” at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, which explores one of the most productive artistic couples, often collaborators, and their milieu.

Jess is best known for his paste-ups and paintings that he referred to as his “salvages,” “translations,” and “romantic paintings.” His paste-ups are complicated Surrealist collages assembled using magazines, photographs, and any other material at hand. The “translations,” which comprise thirty-two paintings completed over thirty years, borrow images from a range of sources, including scientific illustrations, childhood photographs, and postcards. He used the term “salvages” for those works he created on paintings he found at thrift stores, or unfinished canvases of his own.

The exhibition will present a range of works from the 1950s to the 1990s, including seminal works from his oeuvre such as his first translation from 1959, and a rare 1954 collage from his Tricky Cad series. Tricky Cad was a series of collages in which words and images from Dick Tracy cartoons were rearranged into a garbled, Surrealist text. The series pre-figured Pop and is among the artist’s most significant series of early works.

Born Burgess Collins in Long Beach, California, he initially studied chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. He spent three years in the army at the Atomic Energy Laboratory, and had a small part in the Manhattan Project developing the first atom bomb. While working on an atomic energy project, he became disillusioned with science after having a nightmare about the world destroying itself, and instead turned to art.

Jess studied painting at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). His teachers included some of the most influential West Coast painters of the period, including David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Clyfford Still. During this time, Jess met poet Robert Duncan, who would become his lifelong partner and frequent collaborator. They were an influential force in the San Francisco artistic community, who brought together painters and poets and organized exhibitions and readings.