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Jess: To and From the Printed Page February 12 - April 6, 2008

The Harry Ransom Center hosts the traveling exhibition "Jess: To and From the Printed Page" from February 12 - April 6, 2008. Organized and circulated by Independent Curators International (iCI), New York, and curated by Ingrid Schaffner, the exhibition features more than 50 original works of art, a 16mm film transferred to DVD, a sound recording, sculpture and ephemera.

"Jess: To and From the Printed Page" is complemented by the Ransom Center's concurrent exhibition "On the Road with the Beats," which takes visitors on a journey through the cities, landscapes and communities that fostered and shaped the most important works of the Beat Generation, from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s.

Simply known as "Jess" (1923-2004), the artist Burgess Collins emerged in the 1950s from within the literary context of Beat culture in San Francisco. He developed his own artistic style, filling it with literary references that span the ages from ancient and classical times to the contemporary moment in which he lived.

Jess's imagery was a form of dialogue with the written word. As he once said, "I have always delighted in [the] relationship between words and images [and] thought of the book as a form of collage space."

"Jess: To and From the Printed Page" concentrates on how Jess's visual works connect to the literary culture in which he thrived—personally, intellectually and aesthetically. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Jess developed his artistic style, with printed matter serving as subject, object and fodder. He gave his works titles full of literary references, and many of his literary heroes are evoked directly or referenced throughout his work, including James Joyce, Lewis Carroll, Gertrude Stein and poet Robert Duncan, Jess's companion and career-long collaborator on numerous print-related projects.

Jess collaborated with poets and other writers and worked with small presses and limited-edition publications. His collages, which he called "paste-ups," drew from 19th-century illustrations and engravings, often recalling the Surrealist collage methods of Max Ernst.

The exhibition also contains a work from Jess's "Tricky Cad" series, in which Dick Tracy comic strips are rearranged, his thick, colorful paintings called "Translations" and his "salvages," incomplete canvases he acquired from thrift stores and re-painted or "salvaged" with additional images.

With many of the displayed works having never before been shown together in public, the exhibition enables visitors to better understand Jess as an "outsider" artist who, despite his widespread following of devotees, is an unfamiliar name within the larger contemporary art community today.

The exhibition, tour, and catalogue are made possible, in part, by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by the iCI Exhibition Partners.

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Jess, Boob #3, 1954. (Detail)

Jess: To and From the Printed Page
Interview with Host Curator Peter Mears

Harry Ransom Center Associate Curator of Art Peter Mears speaks with Public Affairs intern Anne Frugé about the life and work of the artist featured in Jess: To and From the Printed Page. The exhibition focuses on the influential San Francisco artist known as "Jess" (Burgess Collins) that explores his ongoing dialogue between visual images and printed text. Imaginative collage works and paintings derived from poetry, literary classics, and even the Sunday comics are featured.

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