One thing seems pretty clear about both groups: they separated themselves from mainstream culture, including the art world. This is practically unheard of today.
An exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art positions the artist known as Jess as the center of a creative nexus, bringing together his works with a smattering of California artists.
It is clear to me now that seeing Jess’s art was the beginning of my awareness that there was a multitude of what John Ashbery called “other traditions.”
Revisiting the work of Jess, Robert Duncan, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just turned 100 years old.
An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle presents a slice of the rich Northern California art world of the postwar years. Much of what is here is not “gallery art,” in a commercial sense, but art created by and for a small community of friends, colleagues, and lovers, rooted in a specific place and cultural moment.
Back in the 1950s in the Bay Area, the center for creatives a little off the trail in experimental art was a Victorian house packed to its wooden walls with books. As the home of Jess and Robert Duncan, a couple where within their own relationship there was a constant collaboration between visual art and writing, it became one of the magnets for an eclectic group of artists.