Jess Collins was an important and influential painter & collage artist who had a defining role in the San Francisco Bay Area art scene during the latter portion of the 20th century. “He was the essential San Francisco artist,” said Harry Parker, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, who was well acquainted with the artist. “His political views and his quirky artistic style, his association with the poetry scene, his advocacy of gay rights — all the issues that came into his work were so representative of the San Francisco perspective. Only here could you imagine work like his being made.”
Jess Collins was educated as a chemist and, during his military service, worked on the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project. He later worked at the Hanford Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, but his growing discomfort & dismay at the threat of atomic weapons led him to abandon the scientific path and focus instead on his artwork.
Jess attended the California School of the Arts (now known as the San Francisco Art Institute) in 1949. Around this time, he disassociated himself from his family & began simply going by the name “Jess“. In 1951, Jess met the poet Robert Duncan, who remained his partner until Duncan‘s death in 1988. Together, along with painter Harry Jacobus, they opened the King Ubu Gallery (later renamed the Six Gallery under the curatorship of poet Jack Spicer), which became an important venue for alternative art.
Many of Jess‘ collages and paintings are thematically tied to chemistry, alchemy, and the occult. Collins has also created elaborate collage constructions using illustrations from old books & comic strips, particularly Dick Tracy.
Jess‘ final work, a beautifully rendered 6′ x 5′ piece entitled Narkissos, is owned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Sections of Jess Collins‘ painting “Arkadia Last Resort” were used by Faithless for the cover of their 2004 single, “I Want More“.
Jess Collins passed away at the age of 80 early in 2004 at his home in San Francisco.
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