Artist Spotlight: William S. Burroughs

May 24, 2018

Primarily known for his sensational novels and loose, albeit reluctant association with the Beat Generation, American writer William S. Burroughs was also an accomplished visual artist who produced a large body of innovative work over the course of his long career. In his capacity as an artist, Burroughs collaborated on a number of important projects with artists of a diverse range of styles, including Keith Haring, George Condo, Robert Rauschenberg, Tom Waits, Philip Taaffe, Ian Sommerville, Antony Balch, Kurt Cobain, Robert Wilson, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Burroughs’ devil-may-care paintings, spoken-word performances, and multi-media collaborations have been just as wildly influential as his equally audacious writings, and continue to impact a wide range of artists working in different media to this day.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

William S. Burroughs, Screaming Ghost, 1982
June 10, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Burroughs engaged a range of highly experimental techniques in the creation of his visual works, with collage and montage in particular playing important roles in each of these. An unabashed gun enthusiast, Burroughs began making his now infamous shotgun works in the early 1980s. Savagely punctured through their surfaces with bullet holes, works such as his 1982 Screaming Ghost — formerly owned by Burroughs’ long-time admirer and friend Timothy Leary — are the visual equivalent of Burroughs’ written works, which he often cut up with scissors so as to rearrange and reactivate their original meanings. “It is the function of the artist to evoke the experience of surprised recognition,” Burroughs once said, “to show the viewer what he knows but does not know that he knows.” Burroughs’ richly textured shotgun paintings are as much documentations of craft as they are finished works of art, each equally reveling in the disclosure and celebration of technique.


Lot 212
William S. Burroughs
Screaming Ghost
Paint on plywood with shotgun holes (double-sided)
Signed in graphite lower right
Together with LACMA receipt label
Plywood: 12.5″ x 19.5″ x .75″; Case: 14.375″ x 22.5″ x 7.125″
Provenance:  Timothy Leary, Beverly Hills, California; Private Collection, Beverly Hills, California
Exhibited:  “Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts,” Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 18-October 6, 1996
Illustrated: Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts. LACMA exh. cat. 1996. 103, #38.

Estimate: $6,000 – 9,000
June 10, 2018 Modern Design & Fine Art Auction

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