All Out Of Time And Into Space is an exhibition of William Burroughs’ ‘art’ that opened last week and is on at The October Gallery (24 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AL) until 16 February 2013. Burroughs’ cultural reputation rests as much upon his autobiography (rich kid who became a junkie, rich kid who killed his wife in a shooting ‘accident’ and got off scot free etc.) as on anything he actually produced. Influenced by Brion Gysin’s ideas on the cut-up (using collage in writing), back in the 1960s Burroughs produced The Nova Trilogy of experimental novels which are both interesting and entertaining. Burroughs was a better writer than Gysin and used his friend’s notion of cut-up literature to greater effect than its initiator. That said, Gysin was a good artist and Burroughs wasn’t, and it is no great surprise that some of Burroughs’ pictures come across as a very poor imitation of his friend’s calligraphic painting.
Worse yet are Burroughs’ collages, which are even more embarrassingly bad than his poor Gysin knock-offs. And then there are the ‘shotgun’ pieces including a ‘No Trespassing’ sign that Burroughs has shot holes through. To put it bluntly these ‘works’ are pathetic. Why bother after Niki de Saint Phalle’s shooting paintings anyway? To be charitable Burroughs appears fascinated by texture, but then that hardly makes up for the fact that his pictures suck. Many of his paintings are at first glance abstract but can also be viewed as containing figurative elements – such as two badly rendered figures representing men in British police uniforms (basically a couple of black blotches). Ultimately the pieces on show at The October Gallery look like an exercise in cynicism. Burroughs enjoyed a certain celebrity status and could sell bad art. So he knocked it out to make money. So what?
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!