William S Burroughs: All out of time and into space at the October Gallery

By Richard Moss | 07 December 2012
a photo of William Burroughs
William S. Burroughs© James Grauerholz

William S Burroughs: All out of time and into space, October Gallery, London, until February 16 2013

Cut-up novels, heroin addicition, dream machines, filmwork, the Beat generation… the life and art of William S Burroughs sometimes reads like an A-Z of transgressional art.

Here at October Gallery, which made its reputation as a pioneer of exhibiting what it describes as “the transvangarde and the trans-cultural avant garde”, the novelist’s visual artworks come under the spotlight in a show of paintings, drawings and a selection of his 'talismanic’ art objects.

an abstract print featuring negatives
William S Burroughs, Untitled.1988.© Estate of William S. Burroughs. Photo ONUK
The gallery has a long association with Burroughs, going back to the 1970s. In 1988, it hosted his second solo exhibition, which was his premiere exhibition in the UK. And for this latest show, they are collaborating with the guardians of his estate, William Burroughs Communications, and James Grauerholz, his long-time associate, editor and collaborator.

Burroughs’ approach to writing, particularly his famous cut-up methods, were transcribeable to other artforms. As in his writing, he would scrutinise his works, sometimes using a magnifying glass, "looking for allies" peering through marks and patterns.

Anyone who has dipped into his novels - in particularly his later forays into experimental sci-fi - will know his bleak vision of a planet earth affected by sadomasochistic impulses of a humanity conditioned by power-possessors and the advertising industry. This vision seeps into the artworks on show here, many of which have a bleak take on abstraction.

The show’s title is also derived from Burroughs personal and artistic mythology of the space age, and references his concern with ecological crisis in the age of space exploration.

Burroughs called himself an “explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space...To achieve complete freedom from past conditioning is to be in space.” 

Often called one of the greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century, it will remain to be seen if this exhibition of forensically created action paintings, spraypaint experiments and other artforms can create ripples beyond the Burroughs world. But it will certainly fascinate and delight the army of Burroughs fans eager for any morsel of this singular and uncompromising artist.

  • Open 12.30pm-5.30pm (closed Sunday and Monday). Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @octoberlondon.

an abstract geometrical paintig of swirling red against a yellow background
William S. Burroughs, Untitled. 1992.© Estate of William S. Burroughs. Photo ONUK
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