Hackett Mill is pleased to present a special solo exhibition of the seminal Bay Area artist, Jess. The paintings, drawings, collages and assemblages on view will be accompanied by ephemera documenting the relationship between Jess, his partner (the poet Robert Duncan), and their life-long family friends, whose collection forms this show. The work has remained with the family and will be on view for the first time outside their home in Berkeley, CA. The exhibition spans multiple decades of artistic production from the late 1940s to 1990. Jess: A Family Collection highlights the idiosyncratic and diverse nature of Jess’s artistic practice. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that includes a conversation between Stephen Burton, who grew up in his family’s home surrounded by the artwork, and the writer/poet and Professor Emeritus of American Literature at UC San Diego, Michael Davidson.
Jess, (b. Burgess Collins 1923), began his academic studies in chemistry at Caltech in the 1940s. After being drafted to work on the Manhattan Project and subsequently haunted by the mass destruction from nuclear technology, Jess chose to abandon science for art. This decision would create a permanent rift between him and his family, underscored by their inability to accept that he was gay. The scientific inclination of experimentation, along with an impending doom and preoccupation with apocalyptic destruction followed Jess throughout his life and filtered into his artistic practice.
Though Jess was not associated with any specific Bay Area schools, groups, or styles, he maintained important lifelong relationships with artists, poets and thinkers and collectors including Pauline Kael, the Burtons, and Jess’s partner, the well-known poet Robert Duncan. This circle of relationships was very influential to his work, particularly in his preoccupation with narrative and mythology, where Jess’s figurative paintings often provide an interdisciplinary engagement with works of literature from Frank L. Baum to Miguel de Cevantes.
While Jess’s work was dominated by a fascination with mythology, fantasy and fantastical narrative, it is also noteworthy for its pure experimentation. Jess: A Family Collection will highlight the range of this avant-garde artist as seen through the lens of a single patron. The exhibition reestablishes Jess as a singular artist of his time and provides insight into themagnetic variety of his life’s work.