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Reed College’s Cooley Gallery Hosts Retrospective of Beat Artist Jess

Curator tours of the exhibit will be offered on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m.

PORTLAND, OR (April 16, 2008) -- Reed College will host Jess: To and From the Printed Page at the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery from May 9 to July 20. This comprehensive retrospective focuses on Jess’ rich exploration of the relationship between word and image, and includes important works from 1952 to 1994, many of which are exhibited together for the fist time.

Curator tours of the exhibit will be offered on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18, at 2 p.m.

When Burgess “Jess” Collins died of natural causes at the age of 80 in January 2004, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco director Harry Parker called him the “essential San Francisco artist.” Collins’ art was closely associated with the city’s poetry scene. Collins and his life partner, poet Robert Duncan, were at the center of San Francisco’s bohemian art movement of the ’50s, and continued to influence artistic culture in the United States until their deaths.

"Jess reinvigorated the practice of collage during the Beat era, and he did so in collaboration with the literary revolution happening in America in the late 1950s,” states Stephanie Snyder, John and Anne Hauberg director & curator of the Cooley Gallery. “Jess' meticulously composed masterpieces reflect the changes taking place in American society at that time, in particular the disintegration of Cold War era social and sexual hegemony.”

During World War II, Collins worked developing plutonium as a chemist on the Manhattan Project, a task that seemed to wear on his conscience. In 1948, while working on the Hanford Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, Collins is said to have had an apocalyptic nightmare that caused him to renounce science and enroll at the San Francisco Art Institute. During that same era, he had a falling out with his parents and from that point forward referred to himself solely as Jess. 

Jess was considered an art world outsider until the early ’60s, when his elaborate form of collage, which he called “paste-ups,” earned him entrée into the contemporary mainstream. His work appears in collections around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Jess was represented exclusively by New York's Odyssia Gallery for more than 30 years, but also worked closely with Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco.