O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica


Edited by Michael Duncan

[Jess’s] text-heavy collages, concrete poems and détourné comic strips blur the boundary between reading and seeing, and his collage books, two of which are reproduced here in full, explore the book as a unit of visual composition. As a result, this volume ultimately feels more like a work by Jess than a sampling compiled by others—which is high praise for its editor.

—BEN LERNER, Art in America

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A book of art jampacked with words and images by American master collagist, Jess Collins . . . its mix of verbal illogic, Victoriana, vintage sci-fi and homoerotic high jinks a page-turning and lingering joy.



The inventive and sophisticated master of the collage aesthetic, the artist Jess intermingles and juxtaposes images from wildly eclectic sources (Dick Tracy, Dürer, 19th century Scientific American line engravings, Beatles bubblegum cards, beefcake photos from Physique Pictorial, etc.) in order to re-assemble the meanings of our time.

Known for decades to the cognoscenti, Jess’s works are now receiving fresh attention from a younger generation who—attuned to his interests in myth, narrative, and appropriation—have embraced his groundbreaking synthesis of art and literature.

This volume brings to light paste-ups, word collages, and altered comics that have been largely inaccessible or unavailable since their making. Originally published in small editions and hard-to-find journals, or made as singular artist’s books, these works demonstrate the full range of Jess’s extraordinary verbal and visual play.

Several surreal comic strip manipulations—including all of the existing Tricky Cads—are reproduced for the first time in their entirety. The book includes many previously unpublished works, including two artist’s books reproduced in full—From Force of Habit, a “fantastic tale” which plays with the pages of a cult 1895 Swedish sci-fi novel, and When a Young Lad Dreams of Manhood, a homoerotic paean (and naughty parody of the priapic urge).

Jess’s twenty-page collage masterpiece O! is also included as a separate booklet, and the dust jacket unfolds to reveal inside a 19” x 25” poster reproduction of a large-scale paste-up. All of the works are stunningly reproduced with an emphasis on legibility so that they can be truly read.


JESS (1923-2004), born Burgess Collins in Long Beach, California, abandoned his training as a scientist and his surname in 1949 and enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts. He soon met poet Robert Duncan and the couple embarked on a domestic relationship of shared aesthetic concerns, becoming key generators of the fertile Bay Area art scenes of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Jess’s self-reflexive style of image-making was most powerfully conveyed in the Translations (1959-76), a group of thirty-two paintings based on found images, originally exhibited in his first solo show in New York in 1971 at the Odyssia Gallery and remounted later at the Museum of Modern Art. A major retrospective was organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo in 1993 and traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.  His work resides in numerous private and public collections including those of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

MICHAEL DUNCAN (editor) is critic, independent curator, and a Corresponding Editor for Art in America. His writings have focused on individualistic artists of the twentieth century, West Coast modernism, twentieth century figuration, and contemporary California art. His curatorial projects include surveys of works by Pavel Tchelitchew, Kim MacConnel, Lorser Feitelson, Eugene Berman, Richard Pettibone, Alberto Burri, and Wallace Berman. He is co-curator of the forthcoming exhibition An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan & Their Circle which opens at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento on June 9 and will travel to the Grey Art Gallery, New York University; Katzen Art Gallery, American University; and the Pasadena Museum of California Art.