Umbrella vs. Sewing Machine

A chance encounter at Mythos Fine Art & Artifacts.

Two of San Francisco’s all-time avant-garde finest, who happened to be friends, are showing work together for the first time in Collages and Paste-ups, an aesthetically fortuitous encounter engineered by curator Christopher Wagstaff. Lawrence Jordan is known as the creator of surrealist animated movies, many featuring cutout Victorian engravings — harking back to the Dadaist collage novels of Max Ernst and the poetic box constructions of Joseph Cornell — and is also a maker of drawings, paintings, collages, and assemblages. Jess Collins, who went by his first name only, was a painter, poet, and collagist — “paste-up” was his preferred term — whom SFMOMA regulars will remember for his giant photocollage of musclemen and his painting of The Beatles, as heavily impastoed as cake icing.

Both artists are masters of Surrealist juxtaposition as embodied in the famous description by the 19th-century French-Chilean poet Lautréamont: “As beautiful as the chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissection table.” Each artist, however, transcends method, creating a mental theater, or, in the words of film critic P. Adams Sitney, “an exquisite space and time where reverie and dream meet.” Jordan: “I make films in the surrealist manner, forcing inspiration as often as possible. When I am not inspired, I do not make films. I have always wanted to show the ‘impossible’ in my films, and to astonish the viewer, rather than entertain or tell the truth …. When I astonish myself, I put it in the film. When I don’t, I leave it out.” (Incidentally, both artists dropped out from science careers — art’s gain.)

These miniature worlds, with their dreamlike encounters, bear and require scrutiny, so don’t rush. And don’t miss Jess’ collages “Untitled (Doves and Tomato),” “Untitled (Black Sphere and Rope),” and “Untitled (Tonsured Monk)”; his publication “The Artist’s View”; and his exhibition posters “Paste-ups by Jess” and “The Sun: Tarot XIX.” Likewise, seek and enjoy Jordan’s box assemblage “Queen Checks All” and his collages “Whither Away?” “Graffiti Series 1 — Mystic,” “Ancestors,” “Hawk Heaven,” “The Huntsman’s Dream,” and — almost a poetic manifesto — “Dreaming Is Waking Is Dreaming.” Collages and Paste-ups runs through March 18 at Mythos Fine Art + Artifacts (1747 Solano Ave., Berkeley). 510-528-4291 or


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