Thursday, 11:00am
4 December 2014

Burroughs in Bloomsbury

October Gallery celebrates the centenary of William S. Burroughs with rare artworks from his archive and tributes from other artists

The October Gallery in Bloomsbury celebrates 100 years since the birth of US author William S. Burroughs (1914-97) with an exhibition that features rare artworks from the private collection of his estate.

As the culminating event of his centenary year, the exhibition commemorates Burroughs’ influence on visual culture, writes Catherine Drysdale.

William S. Burroughs, The Assassin’s Gun II, 1990. Ink and spray paint on sketchbook page. Photo by Jonathan Greet.
Top: Detail from William S. Burroughs, Ulysses not too late to seek a new world, 1992. Paint and spray on paper. Photo by Jonathan Greet.

William S. BurroughsThe Assassins Gun II C1990 Ink and spray paint on sketchbook page 36 x 30 cm photo Jonathan Greet copyright Estate William Burroughs

Perhaps best known as the author of The Naked Lunch (1959), Burroughs experimented with photography, painting and performance in his later years. Sources of inspiration for his works draw from his own highly controversial personal experiences. Burroughs writes in The Naked Lunch, ‘Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.’

William S. Burroughs, Unworkable Machine, 1993. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas.


This British exhibition presents a dialogue between Burroughs’ visual legacy and exhibiting artists such as Brion Gysin, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Liliane Lijn, Shezad Dawood and Cerith Wyn Evans, who have all been influenced by his work.

This piece by Liliane Lijn, Way Out is Way In (2009) borrows these words from William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. In a 3m high structure, the work comprises a revolving combination of light and text within a column illuminated with halogen bulbs.


October Gallery has had a long history with Burroughs; the founders began working with him in 1974, hosting his second solo exhibition in 1988 – his first outside the United States.

William S. Burroughs, Ulysses not too late to seek a new world, 1992. Paint and spray on paper. Photo by Jonathan Greet.


An extract from Gus Van Sant’s film William S. Burroughs: A Thanksgiving Prayer exemplifies Burroughs’ ideology.

Extract from A Thanksgiving Prayer:
‘Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
The bare lies shine through.’

The poem was originally published in Tornado Alley, a collection of short stories and poems. Film directed by Gus Van Sant, 1991.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Snoflakes DNA (Clouds), 2008. Print mounted on Plexiglass.


Shezad Dawood, Come, Sweet Death, with Madness Marked and end the Sceneless Revelry, 2012. Acrylic on vintage textile.


‘William S. Burroughs: Can you all hear me?’ opens on Thu 4 December the October Gallery and runs until 7 February 2015.

Read ‘Caught Snapping’ on the Eye blog.

Catherine Drysdale, media intern, Eye

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.