William S. Burroughs is an American author, essayist, painter, and spoken-word performer. He is considered to be “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century,” writing eighteen novels and six short story collections. His life’s journey took him through an education at Harvard, many reckless experiences in Mexico and other countries, and countless artistic endeavors amongst the other great Beats, Kerouac and Ginsberg, in New York City.
In celebration of his 100th birthday this February, Bloomington has developed a festival in his honor, knowing his influence throughout America, and our own everyday lives. We are calling this event the Burroughs Century, but we are not looking backward; rather, we believe that the Burroughs Century is ongoing, that we are in the midst of it, and we intend to stage an event that indicates the full range of that continuing influence, including a film series, art and literature exhibits, speakers and panels, musical performances, and more.
This exhibit will contain works in a variety of media, with a large number of paintings from the file-folder series. Burroughs began painting the file-folders almost ‘by accident’. The folders were always at hand, being necessary to the profession of writing itself because of the constant need to organize papers and ideas. The author originally used the folders to mix pigments and colors before observing that they could be viewed as artworks in themselves. From 1982 onwards Burroughs spent a great deal more of his time making visual art for its own sake including a number of file-folders featuring ‘automatic calligraphy’ partly inspired by his friend Brion Gysin. A large number of works were painted during the period 1990–1992.
Burroughs would adorn the folders inside and out using a mix of ink and gouache with gestural brushstrokes sometimes mixed with glitter or fluorescent paint and a line or two of text. The exhibition features fifty such works, now on show for the first time in London, representing every area of Burroughs creativity, combining as they do literature, visual mark-making and performance, all derived from the very birth of an idea itself.