In 1949, after working for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, between 1944 and 1946, Jess envisioned the earth being destroyed in the year 1975. This fear, undoubtedly part of a more pervasive anxiety experienced internationally following the devastation of World War II, inspired Jess to move to San Francisco and become an artist in an attempt to rediscover a sense of value in society. Montana Xibalba, an example from his Translation series, is part of a grand meditation on science, myth, and art. Each Translation is a faithful reproduction in oil paint of a photograph, engraving, or black-and-white reproduction whose image has mythic meaning to the artist. In Montana Xibalba, Jess has reproduced a photograph of a soccer game from a University of Montana yearbook that he found in a junk shop. Six to eight slowly and meditatively applied layers of paint result in an image that appears to have grown into being, almost like a mold. Jess recognized the soccer game as a symbol of the cosmological myth from the Mayan civilization in which the birth of the sun and the moon resulted from a ball game between two earthly heroes and the Lords of Xibalba, a realm akin to Hades, or hell. The yellow ball represents the sun and the peculiar-looking athletes, the heroes.
Montana Xibalba: Translation #2
American, born 1923
Oil on canvas mounted on wood
29 3/4 x 33 inches