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Jess’s murals

Mural painted by Jess in 1956, with door and floor painted by Harry Jacobus in 1958, in the kitchen of the Kael Basart House, Berkeley, CA, 2014. Photo: Wilfred J. Jones. © Jess Collins Trust.

YOU OPEN A CLOSET DOOR in an otherwise nondescript playroom with a lot of natural light and come face-to-face with a barbershop pole with descending swirls in orange, cream, and black. In a narrow bedroom hallway you look up, and what could be Celtic markings, then Paleolithic meanders, are running below the ceiling.

There is color everywhere, and everywhere there is the suggestion of the occult. There’s the hint of some unnamed ritual being performed, its meaning lost, its images somehow still persisting; there’s the echo of a joke, the setup clear, the punch line forgotten generations ago. Everywhere you look you see something new, old, incantatory, alive.

This is work that the artist Jess made in the film critic Pauline Kael’s 1905 Craftsman house in Berkeley, California, at 2419 Oregon Street, just above Telegraph Avenue, about a mile north of the university, where Kael was a

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