Jess Collins

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Jess Collins
Burgess Franklin Collins

(1923-08-06)August 6, 1923
DiedJanuary 2, 2004(2004-01-02) (aged 80)
EducationSan Francisco Art Institute
Known forVisual art
PartnerRobert Duncan[1]

Jess Collins (August 6, 1923 – January 2, 2004), simply known today as Jess, was an American visual artist.


Jess was born Burgess Franklin Collins in Long Beach, California. He was drafted into the military and worked on the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project.[2] After his discharge in 1946, Jess worked at the Hanford Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, and painted in his spare time, but his dismay at the threat of atomic weapons led him to abandon his scientific career and focus on his art.

In 1949, Jess enrolled in the California School of the Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) and, after breaking with his family, began referring to himself simply as "Jess".[3] In the late 1940s, Jess met Robert Duncan and the painter Lyn Brockway, and became active in numerous exhibitions, poetry gatherings, and creative endeavors through their circle.[4] He met Robert Duncan in 1951 and began a relationship with the poet that lasted until Duncan's death in 1988.[5] In 1952, in San Francisco, Jess, with Duncan and painter Harry Jacobus, opened the King Ubu Gallery, which became an important venue for alternative art and which remained so when, in 1954, poet Jack Spicer reopened the space as the Six Gallery.

Many of Jess's paintings and collages have themes drawn from chemistry, alchemy, the occult, and male beauty, including a series called Translations (1959–1976) which is done with heavily laid-on paint in a paint-by-number style. In 1975, the Wadsworth Atheneum displayed six of the "Translations" paintings in their Matrix 2 exhibition.[6] In the late 1950s, Jess also filled Pauline Kael's home on Oregon St in Berkeley, CA, with fantastical and Romantic murals, which still adorn the walls today.[7] Collins also created elaborate collages using old book illustrations and comic strips (particularly, the strip Dick Tracy, which he used to make his own strip Tricky Cad). Jess's final work, Narkissos, is a complex rendered 6'x5' drawing owned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

A Jess retrospective (Jess: A Grand Collage, 1951–1993) toured the United States in 1993 to 1994, accompanied by a book of the same title. The book included pictures of some of the paintings and collages from the tour. Interspersed between the pictures were essays by various contributors including poet Michael Palmer who wrote an extended piece on Jess's Narkissos.

Sections of Jess's paintings 'Arkadia Last Resort' were used by Faithless in 2004 for the front covers to their single "I Want More".

In 2008, an exhibition of Jess's drawings was held at Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco.[8]

Museum collections[edit]

  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA[9]
  • The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA[10]
  • The di Rosa Collection[11]
  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY[12]
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY[13]
  • The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.[14]
  • The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA[15]


  1. ^ Ibson, John (22 October 2019). Men without Maps: Some Gay Males of the Generation before Stonewall. University of Chicago Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-226-65611-3.
  2. ^ "Jess". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  3. ^ "Jess". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  4. ^ "Jess". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  5. ^ "Jess". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-03-07. Retrieved 2014-02-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Dinkelspiel, Frances (2016-05-09). "The Jess murals at former Pauline Kael house are saved". Berkeleyside. Retrieved 2024-03-31.
  8. ^ Gallery Paule Anglim, Artist profile Jess Archived 2012-03-31 at the Wayback Machine, February 6 - March 1, 2008
  9. ^ "Jess, Narkissos, 1976-1991". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  10. ^ "The Enamord Mage: Translation #6 - Jess (Burgess Franklin Collins)". FAMSF Search the Collections. 2015-05-08. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  11. ^ "The Collection". 16 June 2010. Retrieved 2016-11-03.
  12. ^ "Jess | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  13. ^ "Caesar's Gate IV". 1955. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  14. ^ "Ex. 5 - Mind's I: Translation #12". Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  15. ^ "Feignting Spell, 1954". Crocker Art Museum. Retrieved 2019-01-24.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]