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"A Port of Entry"

Burroughs’s approach to the visual arts is nearly inextricable from the cut-up. The cut-up technique emerges from the serendipitous visual association of sections or lines of text, and Burroughs had long been creating collages using his own manuscripts. While in Tangier, he had begun making photo-collages, which only existed as photographs themselves. He wrote to Brion Gysin of this process: “Make collage of photographs, drawings, newspapers, etc. Now take picture of the collage. Now make collage of the pictures. Take-cut-take-cut, you got it?” Burroughs kept scrapbooks of collages, which combined handwritten notes, accounts of dreams, newspaper clippings, and photographs. One of these, Scrapbook 3, was published in 1979 in a limited edition of 30 copies by Claude Givaudan. Burroughs’s first public piece of art was the-now iconic dust jacket of the 1959 Olympia Press edition of The Naked Lunch. Calligraphic strokes repeat, blurring into one another, demonstrating the obvious influence of Gysin.

In the 1980s, Burroughs began experimenting with shotgun art by shooting pieces of wood and cans of paint and adding additional collage elements, silhouettes, or stencils. His first gallery show was at the Tony Shafrazi Art Gallery, New York, in 1987. The show sold out, despite criticism that Burroughs’s art was the gimmick of a writer who also painted. In response, Burroughs issued a formal statement about his art that emphasized the significance of random events and recalled his meditation on Gysin’s artwork, for which he strove to find a “port of entry.”

Seven Deadly Sins. New York: Lococo - Mulder, 1991.
From the Library of Paul Bowles
Author's presentation copy inscribed to Paul Bowles, bearing the date July 21, 1993

An effective pairing of Burroughs’s shotgun art with his preoccupation with the disintegration of human dignity, Seven Deadly Sins features seven screen prints of woodblocks shot by Burroughs with a 12-gauge shotgun. Each artwork, titled for one of the seven deadly sins (lust, avarice, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth, and pride) is accompanied by text written by Burroughs. The cover features a unique slice of one of the artist’s blasted woodblocks. Shown here is the frontispiece photograph, a portrait of Burroughs by the American photographer Robert Maplethorpe.

Entrance to the Museum of Lost Species. New York: Tony Shafrizi Gallery, 1987.

Burroughs penned the text for the catalog of his first gallery show. He describes what he had termed a “port of entry” to the calligraphic paintings of his friend and closest collaborator Brion Gysin: “[Y]ou look at the picture, let your gaze drift, and then it happens. You can feel it, a shift in the visual field, a movement and concentration of attention, and the images take on magical forms—they begin to move and shift.” Much like Gysin’s art took on a mirage-like quality in which images appeared and disappeared, Burroughs’s art reflected his belief in the unpredictable.

Painting and Guns Painting & Guns. Madras, India, and New York: Hanuman Books, 1992.
Includes two interviews by Raymond Foye: “The Creative Observer” and “The War Universe.”

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