The Cast of Dice, 1958

Artwork Info

Artwork title
The Cast of Dice
Artist name
Date created
oil on canvas in found artist's frame
38 in. × 44 in. (96.52 cm × 35.56 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase, by exchange, through an anonymous gift
© JESS -The Jess Collins Trust
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: SFMOMA's Collection, 1900 to Now

Audio Stories

On the gloom and glow of this mysterious painting

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SFX:  Brahms 

CHRISTOPHER WAGSTAFF:  My name is Christopher Wagstaff. I was a friend of Jess’s and we’re  looking at one of his most mysterious and complex paintings.   It would be easy to just walk by this because it looks murky and nightmarish and like well, maybe I’ll go on to something a little more cheerful.    

I’d like to start by looking at the figure on the far right.  He’s a gray angelic figure, a guardian figure. He’s looking through a window and part of the window is shaped in the form of a cross. And we can see that there is a figure hanging from the cross.  And at the bottom of the cross is a figure with his arm in the air.  And if this is a crucifixion scene, it’s possible that that figure is one of the Roman soldiers, who we know from the gospels was casting lots for Christ’s garments.  This is a pretty dark situation.   

Now Jess told me once that he never presented a totally hopeless situation in any of his paintings.  Here we see a beautiful rose right in the middle of the canvas with a beautiful glow around it  I thought of a line by Ezra Pound.  He said, “In the gloom, the gold gathers the light about it.”   It seems like possibly jess is using the rose  as a symbol of divine love, which is able to counteract and negate tragedy and human sadness and grief.    

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