William Seward Burroughs II, author of Naked Lunch, aka William Lee, author of Junkie. Lifelong heroin addict, counter-culture hero, admirer of young men, accidental killer of his own wife by shotgun blast to the face, traveller to mystical and mythical lands. There’s nothing I could say about Burroughs that hasn’t already been said, which is a cop-out way of saying I can’t be arsed doing this properly. I’ve been meaning to get a few images of Burroughs’ shotgun art up on here, and -fanfare- today is the day. He is of course the great writer of the two books I have already mentioned, and the extremely difficult writer of a load of other ones (The Soft Machine, The Ticket that Exploded, etc), all of which have themes of control and addiction, and which get increasingly more difficult to read.
As he aged he became convinced that the written, spoken and thought word was a virus that prevented freedom of expression and was used as a control mechanism by mysterious powers. As well as his heroin (and later methadone) he got into other dangerous crap like Scientology. He was a dangerous loon, but fortunately for those around him (except of course poor Joan Burroughs) he had a creative outlet for his manias. He kept visual diaries for years, and became more interested in visual expression. Also as a free-living libertarian Mid-Western Gentleman he had an interest in firearms. As is logical he combined the two.
At a later date I would like to post about his visual diaries as there is a lot more mileage to be had from the wonderful book I have in my possession – William Burroughs and the Arts: Ports of Entry. The book is actually a catalogue put out in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, held July to October, 1996. Anyone fancy reforming this exhibition and bringing it to Manchester? Thanks; I’ll leave it with you.
My favourite image is probably the simplest one, Screaming Ghost. The name describes the accidental appearance created by sticking a pot of paint in front of the plywood and blasting away with his shotgun. “Once you know where to point, all you have to do is get out of the way and let this thing happen [...] and letting what you really know take over.” Other shotgun works grew more complicated as he began experimenting with sticking on found images, collage elements and different colours of paint. He also viewed both sides – the entrance and exit wounds – to be part of the complete image.
I include here the book cover, which features an oil painting, William Burroughs, 1992 by Alison Van Pelt; and as my own appropriative act using found imagery, a child’s drawing I found on the train while reading Naked Lunch (it now lives within it’s pages).