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Collage artist, painter, and sculptor. Drawing on symbolist and surrealist traditions, he created imaginative, evocative works independent of mainstream concerns. His most striking pieces, which he called “pasteups,” combine cutouts from magazines, advertisements, and other sources into opulently layered mélanges. Particularly in early examples incorporating comic strips, Jess's work often suggests pop art's fascination with mass culture, but it deviates from pop's sardonic worldliness. His frequent use of cast-off and found materials in assemblages as well as collages relates his approach to the practices of San Francisco funk art colleagues. However, Jess's work shows greater formal discipline, as well as more romantic intentions. Born in Long Beach, California, Burgess Collins intended to become a scientist. He studied at the junior college in his hometown before transferring to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. As a chemist for the Army Corps of Engineers after he was drafted in 1943, he worked for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In 1946 he returned to Cal Tech, where he earned a degree in chemistry during the next two years. After taking a job at the Hanford Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, he began to harbor reservations about the value of scientific progress. He discarded his surname around the time he moved permanently to San Francisco in 1949. There he studied at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), where his teachers included Elmer Bischoff, David Park, and Clyfford Still. About the time he began to make his distinctive collages in the early 1950s, he met poet Robert Duncan, whose objectives paralleled his own. Duncan often used collagelike methods of composition, he cultivated a lyric and spiritually charged form of expression, and he resisted societal norms while acknowledging the power of tradition and its symbols. They became partners and sometime collaborators until Duncan's death in 1988. Jess's paintings, which he continued to produce concurrently with the pasteups, often parallel the allusive concerns of his collages. Some copy preexisting images, while others offer atmospheric abstractions.

Subjects: Art.

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