William S. Burroughs
EVERGREENE is pleased to announce an exhibition of the work of William S. Burroughs. During his lifetime, Burroughs, known foremost as an iconoclast of modern literature, increasingly combined the visual arts with the written word. His fiction is anchored in visual references, and his visual art is born out of his complex and uneasy relationship with words. He consistently maintained that “words and language are viruses whose entire purpose is to control us and force us into a shackled dependence on ‘either or’ logic and Aristotelian rationality in a world that simply does not conform to such rules.”
Burroughs subscribed to British-Canadian painter Brion Gysin’s theory that the literary arts were fifty years behind the visual arts, and began to explore montage techniques popularized by the Dadaists and Surrealists earlier in the century. The “cut up and fold in” technique that resulted, and had in part been used to assemble his novel Naked Lunch, became crucial to Burrough's literary experiments, enabling him to abandon traditional linear narrative and explore with a new found tangentially and fluidity.
Burrough's visual art owes much to this exploration, and there is an extensive and impressive body of it: from early collages, photo montages and text image works to experiments with tape recorders, music, strobe lights and films and then on to his gun-shot series, where he shot plywood in double form to show both the entry and the exit of the shot, to ultimately his sculptural assemblages and pure paintings.
It was towards the end of his life that Burrough's turned more and more to painting .In 1982 he made his first gunshot painting. “I picked up a piece of plywood and blasted it,» he wrote. He was not the first artist to use a gun in conjunction with art: Joseph Cornell, Alberto Burri and Yves Klein had done it, to name but a few, but he was certainly unaware of these connections when he first stumbled across the method which also satisfied a lifelong passion for shooting guns. The shattered fragments all around the entry and exit points afforded a sense of abstraction and randomness for which he had long been searching.
Following on the gun series, in the late 80s and early 90s, Burroughs turned to painting on slick heavy papers, usually with a brush, but also with his hands, spray paint, markers and plungers. Going back to the influence of Gysin, Burroughs had learnt that automatism was the surest route to the unconscious, and that writing and painting could be treated in a similar way. In his painting Burroughs always strived for a “port of entry”, that is to say something recognizable in the work with which the viewer could connect. This has been coined “apparitional abstraction”. He felt that modern art should be involved with randomness, while also steering a path to greater awareness.
It is possible to say that Burrough's artwork is given so much consideration because of his writing, but the powerful effect of his combined talents undoubtedly makes the man himself one of the most influential figures in the art world of the 20th century; the reach of his influence spreading widely through writers, Kerouac, Ginsberg; painters, Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring, Philip Taaffe and Jean Michel Basquiat; and musicians: David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Punk Rock movement.
Born in St Louis in 1914 and educated at Harvard, William Seward Burroughs was the extremely atypical product of an upper middle class American family made socially prominent by his grandfather's invention of the modern adding machine. After graduating in literature and anthropology in 1936 he wandered in the USA and Europe, and eventually became a heroin addict in New York in 1944. In 1953 he published his first novel `Junkie`, an account of his experiences as an addict.
`An iconoclast of the first order` Burroughs alternately outraged and inspired generations with his novels, essays, readings, and `routines`. He was one of the earliest supporters of such young writers as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, which earned him a place in the pantheon of the `Beat generation`. His best-known work, however, is Naked Lunch (1959). Prompted to write Naked Lunch by his own accidental shooting of his first wife, Burroughs struggled to assemble the various parts of the work coherently and relied on Kerouac, Ginsberg and a third friend Alan Ansen, to retype, edit and reorganize it. What resulted was a fractured, montage novel, which in Burrough's view replaced the inadequacy of traditional narrative.