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ROBERT DUNCAN CENTENARY CELEBRATION: Sponsored by the Jess Collins Trust and Gibson Art Projects

Though renowned as a poet, Robert Duncan (1919-1988) was also a graphic artist who produced visual work of considerable interest. As a celebration of the poet’s centenary, some of this rarely-seen work will be on display at the Jess-Kael House, 2419 Oregon Street, in Berkeley from Saturday, May 11, 2019, 2-4:30 (opening) through June 9, 2019.

Open Salon Hours:

Tuesdays during exhibition from 5pm - 7pm. For private viewings, please email or

On Robert Duncan by Jack Foley

A friend of Robert Duncan’s remarked, “Robert would come to these parties, and if nothing else was going on, he could always draw. It was a form of play.” “Play” is a central element in any description of Duncan, whose rich, dense, brilliant verse was at once a challenge and an inspiration to anyone who came into contact with it. For Duncan, consciousness was bound up and intertwined with words like childhoodmagicromanceprimal, and these elements are present in his graphic work as well. “I am everywhere involved in religion,” he once remarked with amusement, “but nowhere does my involvement produce a church.” Acutely aware of all the artistic ramifications of Modernism—and constantly paying homage to them—he nevertheless produced work rooted in what Modernism always represented as its generic enemy: Romanticism. “I see always,” he wrote in one of the poems of The Opening of the Field (1960), “the underside turning.” The instrument for his graphic work was not the brush but the wax crayon. “When I write by hand,” he remarked, “I can feel the poem in my hand.” Something of the same thing can be said of these drawings. “Lines” produced by the crayon echo “lines” produced by the pen. For Duncan, as for Jess, “writing” was a form of “drawing,” drawing a form of writing. “Drawingwise,” Duncan remarked to a student once, “your drawing looks like it was withdrawing, not going forward.” Duncan’s drawings are never like that.  They are reminders of an artist who once said, “The world of spirit is everything,” and who praised Alfred North Whitehead because Whitehead thought of people “not as entities but as events”: “So for me there is a question: Is there a me? I? What I do is that I pose a creative process in which I assemble me from surrounding facts.” “Assemblage,” fantasy, homoeroticism, and poetry meet in both this artist’s verse and his graphic work, as they did in his life.


The Pauline Kael - Jess Murals House is located at 2419 Oregon Street in Berkeley. Film critic Pauline Kael lived there from 1955 to 1964, and the house boasts many beautiful murals created for Pauline Kael and her young daughter in 1956 by the artist Jess (1923-2004).