Animals in the Wall
We are very proud to launch this new exhibition of William S Burroughs’ incredible art, never before seen in this setting with many pieces never having been previously exhibited. The exhibition will feature around 40 original Burroughs works, in addition to new multimedia experiments, alongside an exciting programme of talks, film screenings and workshops.
William S Burroughs is recognised as one of the most culturally influential writers and visionaries of the 20th Century and his legacy continues to steer world culture and creative thinking. A progenitor of the Beat Generation, his writing and ideas changed literature forever. Burroughs’ multi-media collaborations spawned new directions in film and music and his art is only now being properly discovered and explored. His works come alive in new ways each day and his legacy is constantly evolving.
In many ways Burroughs was creating art for future generations. In 2014, the centennial year of his birth, his work continues to strike poignant chords. It has an enduring relevance, bringing to light important issues that are in sync with the times. He made many prescient predictions on technological evolution and the oversteps of sociopolitical ‘Control’ systems. Burroughs created many works as a form of resistance; his stated purposes included exposing systems of oppression and creating a “mythology for the space age,” complete with “heroes and villains with respect to overall intentions with regard to this planet.”
“-control symbols pounded to word and image dust; crumbled cloth bodies of the vast control machine- the whole structure of reality went up in silent explosions under the whining sirens-” - The Ticket That Exploded, 1962
The act of non-conformity and dissent runs deep within the Burroughs ethos. There are many anarchic graffiti-esque elements in Burroughs’ paintings, for which he used spray paint aerosols, stencils, paste-up collages and letterforms. His marks are those of an ambitious and rebellious outsider scrawling text and layering images into new forms.
Burroughs’ art works were mainly created from the early ’80s to late ’90s and resonate well with the vibrant street art of today’s East London, where this exhibition is being premiered. Graffiti tags form ‘cut-ups’ of texts along the train tracks and the diverse and colourful illegal art that covers this part of the city has always fostered a space for free thought.
After complaining that writing was “50 years behind painting,” artist, collaborator and friend Brion Gysin discovered and introduced Burroughs to the ‘cut-up’ method. With this technique the two proceeded to disassemble and reappropriate written, spoken language and visual art. He was very inspired by the unforeseen connections and associations which appeared in random montages of words and images, reporting that, “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
He had always been aware of and fascinated from young age by possibilities of unseen realms and a ‘magical universe.’ During childhood Burroughs had hallucinations involving animals crawling through the wallpaper around his bedroom, these visions fueled his constant experiments to peer through walls of consensus reality.
Burroughs reveled in the act of painting, a ritual experimentation with far-reaching intent. Often started as magical spells or incantory scrawlings, his paintings are filled with word and sentence fragments. Little is legible, though, as he was often attempting to “rub out the word”, or, cut its association lines by making a word a “tangible thing” - and then altering it. He also keenly experimented with the shapes of the natural world around him and the effects of gunpowder and fire power, often letting off rounds into canvases and paint. All these works have a powerful presence and transmit something from within that awaits decipherment.
“Words and images melted into air.”
Burroughs was informed by a lifetime of dialogue with provocative and penetrating thinkers. Notable collaborators in his lifetime include Antony Balch, Ian Sommerville, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg, George Condo, Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, John Giorno, Terry Southern, and Gregory Corso. He has been cited as having provided inspiration for countless of others, including David Bowie, David Cronenberg, Patti Smith, Will Self, William Gibson, Thurston Moore, John Waters, J.G. Ballard, The Beatles, The Klaxons and many more.
Burroughs is a prophet for the 21st Century with much of his artistic work still waiting to be unraveled.
“Punch a hole in the big lie. Punch a hole for me.” - Last Words, 1997
Curated by James Elphick (Guerrilla Zoo) and Yuri Zupančič (William Burroughs Communications) and with support from Londonewcastle Project Space.
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