William Burroughs 100 at Riflemaker

On 30 January 2014 I attended a private view of Riflemaker gallery’s William Burroughs 100 exhibition, celebrating the centenary of his birth on 5 February 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Burroughs was an innovative writer and artist in a variety of media. A giant figure of the Beat Generation, he went on to deeply influence a wide swathe of culture and thought with dozens of books and hundreds of paintings, essays, spoken word performances and multi-media collaborations.

William S Burroughs  Silver and white acrylic spraypaint  with gun and net stencils on card  58 x 44 cm, framed (1989)

William S Burroughs
Silver and white acrylic spraypaint
with gun and net stencils on card
58 x 44 cm, framed (1989)

A Harvard graduate, Burroughs followed his fascinations through the underworlds and subcultures of international cities including Tangiers, Paris, New York, London, Chicago, New Orleans, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Athens, and Mexico City. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were key figures in his life and early literary career. Teaching him to ‘see’ paintings, Brion Gysin was fundamental to Burroughs’ artistic development and shared with him such techniques as the ‘cut-up’, calligraphy, and painting with an engraved wallpaper roller. Other important collaborators include Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg, George Condo, Philip Taaffe, Antony Balch, Ian Sommerville, Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and Kurt Cobain.

'Red Pricks' Fluorescent spraypaint and stencils on illustration board (1989) 62 x 45 cm

‘Red Pricks’
Fluorescent spraypaint and stencils
on illustration board (1989)
62 x 45 cm

Some of the work featured in this show features a wide range of painting techniques, painting the file-folders almost ‘by accident’. The folders were always at hand, being necessary to the profession of writing itself because of the constant need to organize papers and ideas. The author originally used the folders to mix pigments and colours before observing that they could be viewed as artworks in themselves. From 1982 onwards Burroughs spent a great deal more of his time making visual art for its own sake including a number of file-folders featuring ‘automatic calligraphy’ partly inspired by his friend Brion Gysin. A large group of works were painted during the period 1990 – 1992, when Burroughs would adorn the folders inside and out using a mix of ink and gouache with gestural brushstrokes sometimes mixed with glitter or fluorescent paint and a line or two of text.

'Untitled' (23 Badge) with 23 bullet holes black felt marker on canvas (framed) (1993) 100 x 70 cm

‘Untitled’ (23 Badge)
with 23 bullet holes
black felt marker on canvas (framed) (1993)
100 x 70 cm

Burroughs was not only known for shooting heroin, he was also known for a healthy love affair with firearms. As a coveted collector of shotguns, rifles, pistols and revolvers, we can see their impact on his pieces included in the exhibition. Infamously, Burroughs shot dead his wife Joan Vollmer. She died tragically while perfoming a drunken game of ‘William Tell’ with Burroughs in which his gun missed the target, killing her instantly.

From 1982 until his late years, he prolifically created visual art. Burroughs’ work has since been featured in over fifty international galleries and museums including Royal Academy of the Arts, Centre Pompidou, Guggenheim Museum, New Museum, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art.

The centenary exhibition featuring Burrough’s work at Riflemaker is showing until 22nd March 2014. Somehow, I’m sure Burroughs would have wryly approved of the name of the exhibition space in which his artistic contribution is being celebrated.

William Burroughs 100William Burroughs 100
5 February – 22 March 2014

Riflemaker
79, Beak Street
London
W1F 9SU

Discussion 3 commenti

  1. February 27, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    This review is brilliant! More please.

  2. February 27, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    This is an informative and well written article.
    It has certainly whetted my appetite to have a look at this artist.

  3. February 28, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Wow Simone thank you for such a great introduction to an artist I hadn’t come across before!

Reply to Caroline

by Simone Gordon
in Focus on Europe

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