William S. Burroughs retrospective
The William S. Burroughs retrospective at Hamburg's Sammlung Falckenberg takes a closer look at the Beat writer's creative collaborations and experiments with painting, film, sound recordings, and photography.
Works like "Naked Lunch" and "The Soft Machine" made William S. Burroughs an icon of the Beat Generation. His literature influenced artists, filmmakers and musicians from John Cage and Patti Smith to Lou Reed and David Cronenberg. Less well-known is the fact that Burroughs also experimented with film, sound and painting. He is pictured here in his New York apartment, dubbed "The Bunker," in 1981.
Born William Seward Burroughs II in St. Louis, Missouri in 1914, he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac after moving to New York City in 1943. Like his fellow Beat writers, Burroughs was a subversive figure, railing against the moral, political and economic machinery of modern American society. He painted "Helpless Pieces in the Game He Plays" in 1989.
The retrospective at Hamburg's Sammlung Falckenberg takes an exploratory look at the connection between Burroughs' art and writing, repositioning him as a pioneer of new media art. Much of his semi-autobiographical work was inspired by his travels to Latin America, Tangier, London, Paris and Berlin - and his heroin addiction. "Return of the Eternal Black Penny," pictured, was painted in 1988.
The exhibition illuminates lesser-known dimensions of Burroughs' oeuvre through his various collaborations with other artists. One of his most fruitful creative partnerships was with British-Canadian poet and painter Brion Gysin, pictured (left) with Burroughs in Basel in 1979. Gysin inspired Burroughs' use of the "cut-up" technique, creating random juxtapositions of text, images and sounds.
Glitter and doom
Burroughs started work on the avant-garde musical fable "The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets" with theater director Robert Wilson and musician Tom Waits in 1988. Based on a collection of ghost stories, the comedy-horror is also a cautionary tale about the power of addiction. Burroughs (r.) pictured with Wilson and Waits (l.) at the Hamburg premier of "The Black Rider" in 1990.
In 1981, the counterculture icon moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he would spend the remainder of his life. There Burroughs developed his painting technique of shooting tins of spray paint with his shotgun. He initially used file folders as an improvised palette to mix colors before deciding they were artworks in their own right. Pictured: untitled, spray paint on a file folder, c. 1992.
Creativity and contempt
JG Ballard described Burroughs, who mixed with everyone from Susan Sontag to David Bowie, as being full of "brooding contempt for middle-class values, thrift, hard work, parenthood, et cetera, which are just excuses for petit-bourgeois greed and exploitation." The retrospective brings together texts, photos, recordings and films, alongside 150 of his visual artworks, including "Untitled" (1988).
Burroughs is pictured here in Brion Gysin's Paris apartment in 1979. The author of "Junkie," "Queer" and "The Wild Boys," an essayist, artist and cult counterculture figure, died at home in Kansas following a heart attack on April 2, 1997. "William S. Burroughs. Retrospective" runs at the Sammlung Falckenberg in Hamburg through August 18, 2013.