Jess Collins

Jess Collins (August 6, 1923 – January 2, 2004) was born Burgess Franklin Collins in Long Beach, California. He was initially educated as a chemisjess1956t, having received his B.S. at the California Institute of Technology in 1948, and in his career worked on the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project.  In 1949 he abandoned his scientific career and moved to San Francisco where he enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts  (now the San Francisco Art Institute) and began referring to himself simply as “Jess”. He met Robert Duncan in 1951, a relationship  that lasted until the poet’s death in 1988.

Alternative cover for O!, 1959

In 1952 Jess, Duncan, and Harry Jacobus opened the King Ubu Gallery, which became an important venue for alternative art in San Francisco. And it remained so when it was  reopened as the Six Gallery in 1954 by Wally Hedrick, Deborah Remington, John Ryan, Jack Spicer, Hayward King, and David Simpson.

A celebrated painter and collage artist, Jess was a leading light of the San Francisco art scene from the 1950s until his death in 2004, and one of the most original artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Jess was a quietly independent artist who in his paintings, collages, and sculptures developed a complex synthesis of art and literary history. Jess’ unique imagery, evolved from mythology and fables both playful and profound, has long been admired by critics, curators and writers. Using paper collage or his eccentric painting techniques, Jess’ pictures referenced ancient stories and invented symbols. Jess constructed a private world of delicate beauty and gentle absurdity. 

A. Books and Broadsides

1. Artists View #8
Tiburon: Artist’s View, 1954
Poems and paste-ups, folded broadside, entire issue devoted to the work of Jess.

2. O!
New York: Hawks Well Press, 1960
Paste-ups and poems, stapled wrappers, with a preface by Robert Duncan.

3. The Dios Kuroi
Off-print from The Northwest Review, 1963
Paste-up sequence.

B. Contributions to Books and Other Publications

1. Jess Collins and Robert Duncan. Boob #1
jess_boob01San Francisco: [privately printed], 1952
Broadside. Paste-up.

2. Jess Collins and Robert Duncan. Boob #2
jess_boob02San Francisco: [privately printed], 1952
Broadside. Paste-up.

3. Duncan, Robert. Caesar’s Gate
Mallorca: Divers Press, 1955.
Cover and 16 paste-ups.

4. Jonas, Steve. The Poem, The Sea & Other Pieces Examined.
jonas_loveSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1957.
Cover illustration and titling. (Johnston A1)

5. Spicer, Jack. AFTER LORCA
spicer_lorcaSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1957
Cover illustration. (Johnston A2)

6. Levertov, Denise. FIVE POEMS
levertov_fiveSan Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1958
Cover illustration. (Johnston A3)

7. Adam, Helen. The Queen O’ Crow Castle
adam_queenSan Francisco: White Rabbit, 1958
Cover illustration, titling, and six drawings. (Johnston A9)

8. Olson, Charles. O’Ryan 2 4 6 8 10
olson_oryanSan Francisco: White Rabbit, 1958
Cover illustration. (Johnston A10)

9. Spicer, Jack. Billy The Kid
spicer_billyStinson Beach: Enkidu Surrogate Press, 1959
Cover illustration and seven drawings.

10. Duncan, Robert. The Opening of The Field
New York: Grove Press, 1960
Frontispiece drawing.

11. Adam, Helen and Pat. San Francisco’s Burning
Berkeley: Oannes Press, 1963
Cover illustration and six drawings.

12. Duncan, Robert. Unkingd by Affection 
San Francisco: San Francisco Arts Festival, 1963
Illustrated broadside.

13. Adam, Helen. Ballads
New York: Acadia Press, 1964
Cover illustration, titling, title page, and 15 drawings. Two additional drawings included in limited edition with hand-tinted cover.

14. Borregaard, Ebbe. When Did Morning Wind Rip Callow Flowers in May… 
San Francisco, San Francisco Arts Festival, 1964
Illustrated broadside.

15. Duncan, Robert. A Book of Resemblances
New Haven: Henry Wenning, 1966
Illustrations in two colors.

16. Duncan, Robert. The Cat and The Blackbird
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1967
Cover illustration, titling, and drawings.

17. Duncan, Robert. Names of People
Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1968

18. Dunn, Joe. Better Dream House
San Francisco: White Rabbit Press, 1968
Cover and 11 paste-ups.

19. Morgenstern, Christian. Gallowsongs 
Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press 1970

C. Contributions to Periodicals

1. Artists View #0. Tiburon, 1952. Paste-up poem

2. Artists View #5. Tiburon, 1953. Cover illustration.

3. Poems & Pictures #1. 1954. Poem

4. Black Mountain Review #4. 1956. Paste-up poem.

5. Black Mountain Review #6. 1956. Paste-ups

6. Ark II, Moby I. 1956. Translations.

7. J #2. 1959. Notes on painting.

8. J #5. 1959. Cover illustration and comic strip.

9. J #6. 1959. Comic strip.

10. Chelsea #7. 1960. Translations.

11. An Apparition of The Late J. 1960. Poem.

12. Folio 3. Bloomington, Summer 1960. Paste-up.

13. Foot #1. 1960. Poem.

14. Foot #2. 1962. Poem.

15. The Northwest Review 4. Eugene, Winter 1963. Paste-up sequence.

16. Semina 8. Los Angeles, 1963. Paste-up.

17. The Rivoli Review #1. 1964. Cover illustration.

18. The Rivoli Review #2. 1964. Poem.

19. Writing 3. 1964. Cover illustration and five drawings.

20. Open Space #1. 1964. Dream record.

21. Open Space #2. 1964. Dream record and letter.

22. Open Space #Twin 4. 1964. Dream record.

23. Open Space #6. 1964. Dream record and drawing.

24. Open Space #7. 1964. Cover illustration and dream record.

25. Open Space #8. 1964. Paste-up.

26. Open Space #9. 1964. Drawing.

27. Open Space #10. 1964. Cover illustration and paste-up.

28. Open Space #12. 1964. Drawing.

29. Floating Bear #31. 1965. Cover illustration.

30. Insect Trust Gazette #2. 1965. Paste-up.

31. Some / Thing #8. 1966. Paste-up.

32. The Tenth Muse #14. 1967. Cover illustration.

33. The Tenth Muse #15. 1967. Cover illustration.

34. The Tenth Muse #21. 1968. Cover illustration.

35. The Tenth Muse #26. 1969. Cover paste-up.

Further Reading

The Paris Review
Siglio Press