After his military service during World War II, Burgess Collins abandoned his scientific career due to fears about nuclear proliferation. He broke with his family in 1949, shortened his name to simply Jess, and enrolled in the California School of the Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). He quickly became a key member of the 1950s Beat scene, along with his longtime companion, the poet Robert Duncan.
Throughout the 50s, Jess experimented with technique in still-lifes, portraits, and
landscapes, paintings that shimmer with narrative potential. Jess described some of
these works as “mythic landscapes, in the sense that a certain abstract chaos is slowly
coming to order. All of the creation myths depict some kind of chaos transforming into
order or image. I sometimes thought of these early landscapes as vaguely analogous to a creation myth.”