Friday, February 03, 2017

Arty Farty Friday ~ William S. Burroughs & His Paintings

William S. Burroughs, best known for his writing, also painted. He was one of The Beat Generation; Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg were others of that ilk. I do not find Burroughs at all inspiring in either writing or painting mode. It's hard to devote time and effort to an uninspiring subject, but as the anniversary of Burroughs' birth will come up in a couple of days, and today is Arty Farty Friday, I shall re-do part of a previous post of mine.

W.S. Burroughs, born 5 February 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri at 7.40am (

Wow! 5 planets plus ascendant in Aquarius (including Aquarius' ruler, Uranus); 3 planets in Gemini, two in Cancer. So much Air (Aquarius and Gemini) mightn't be good for a body - or a mind! Here's an instance of "too much of a good thing". I've seen it before, but never quite as extreme an example as this. Too much Air blows away anything of substance, literally and metaphorically.

This guy had potential to spare, yet he squandered it. It seems to me almost as though he was born drugged and drunk - from the overdose of Air in his chart. Oh, the literary "elite" coo over his books with exaggerated praise. Does the average reader, though, see anything praiseworthy, or just a case of the emperor and his new clothes?

From (linked above)
"Searching for identity, Burroughs moved to New York when he was in his early 30’s, where he joined the city’s gangster underworld. Buying stolen goods and drugs, he intentionally became a heroin addict in the early ’40s after initially experimenting with morphine. In 1943, he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, two writers who later became principal figures in the "Beat" movement. The three became close friends, and Kerouac once described Burroughs as "tall, 6' 1", strange, inscrutable because ordinary looking, like a shy bank clerk with a patrician thin-lipped cold blue-lipped face." They were impressed by his obvious intelligence and worldly cynicism, and were interested in his underworld experimentation.

A strong emphasis on personal freedom is evident in his life and his writing, and he moved to East Texas, joined by Herbert Huncke and Joan Vollmer Adams, where he became a farmer, growing oranges, cotton and marijuana. The threesome lived in squalor on the farm, addled by the drugs they took. Burroughs’ life during that period was later used as fodder for Kerouac’s book "On the Road." "

William S. Burroughs is best known for his very avant garde, nay, peculiar novels, such as "Naked Lunch". That, by the way, was the last major book to be the subject of prosecution for obscenity in the United States.

Bearing in mind his writing style, it comes as no surprise to find that his art is similarly abstract and fairly unintelligible to the average looker on. See Google Image for more examples of his paintings.





He spent his later years in Kansas and there developed a strange painting technique, creating abstract compositions by placing spray paint cans in front of, and some distance from, blank canvasses, and then shooting at the paint cans with a shot gun. Some of these creations were shown in a New York City gallery in the early 1990s.
From an interview HERE
Burroughs: When I am painting, I see with my hands. When you write, you can’t help but see what is right in front of you. This is not true with painting — your hands do all sorts of things. For example, I read a book called Bad Medicine by C.Q. Yarbro, and in it someone had overdosed on anticoagulants, so that blood was coming out of his nose, through his skin, everywhere. And the drug was disguised in orange juice, because it had an acidic taste. Well, in one of my paintings, you can see the guy drinking the orange juice, which is odd because I wasn’t necessarily thinking about that at the time. In other words, what I am doing is automatic painting.

Ellis: When did you recognize it?

Burroughs: As soon as I painted it, I looked at it and said, this is that scene. I have had several experiences like that, recognizing events in my paintings after they have been completed.

Ellis: Do you think symbols come out of your unconscious mind onto the paper through your hands?

Burroughs: I would never use the term “unconscious,” because if it were completely unconscious, no one would be aware of it. Usually it is partially conscious.

As many posts are comment-free here these days, I've copied commentary from my 2009 post below, to add interest:

Anyjazz said...I read "Interzone" some years ago just so I could say that I had read some Burroughs. In the end that's all I can now say: I read some Burroughs. It was in the neighborhood of worthless.

Twilight said...Anyjazz ~~~ So you didn't see "the emperor's new clothes" then. Good!!

Shawn Carson said...Interesting article, Twilight, I am ignorant about this guy, buy ZOWIE! what a chart! From what I gather here, he was some sort of conduit for unconscious images. What a 12th house! I noticed that one of his works was called, Out of the Closet. Very fitting. My son has that MO/SA conjunction and he has a lot of depth to him. He is somewhat melancholic and very scientific. Some folks would say that if you aren't melancholic, then you aren't a true artist.

Wisewebwoman said...I always look forward to Fridays on your blog, T.I tried to read "Naked Lunch" years ago and couldn't and his art reminds me of something indigestible. Sorry. He is best forgotten in my book but thanks for trying!!!

Anthony North said... I don't know why but I could never get into the Beat Generation writers. I've tried - I've read Naked Lunch, and several by Kerouac, but they just didn't do anything for me.

Twilight said...
Shawn ~~~ It was the chart that decided me to write about burroughs - 'cos I really don't admire him, but it's such an unusual line-up he had. In future I'll be watching for anything similar, to compare personalities. Melancholia and art do tend to go together, I agree. MO/SA, in your son's case could be lightened by other facets, and generational flavour too. Do you have an artist on your hands? :-)

WWW ~~~ I wouldn't have bothered, but for that fascinating chart.
Yes, the man is best forgotten, I agree.

A North ~~~ Same here. The whole Beat thing is a blind spot for me. I guess it's one of those instances where "you had to be there" :-)

R J Adams said...I'm not surprised you found him uninspiring. Anyone who has to shoot and kill their wife to gain sufficient inspiration to write is hardly worthy of comment. At least, not in my book.
Twilight said...RJ Adams ~~~ He was a nasty piece of work, no doubt about it. It's hard to understand how anyone can admire him and his work. All that talk of "being free", so beloved of the "Beats" - complete balderdash. I like freedom myself, but not at the expense of others.


R J Adams said...

I can only reiterate my previous comment. He never needed to work to earn money and despite a degree of fame (infamy?) was, in my book, a loser in every sense of the word.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Indeed! Loser, yes, and a few other descriptives often thrown around the net nowadays - one beginning with 'a' and ending with 'e' with an 'h' in the middle springs to mind.
He's an unfortunate advert for Aquarius and Gemini too!

Sackerson said...

Given his birthchart, is it possible to check for events in his life that appear to be predicted?

Twilight said...

Sackerson ~ Hey there! Hmmm - Detail of exact dates, maybe even exact times of such events would need to be known. Just a quick look for the date (for an example) of his shooting "accident?" of his wife Joan Vollmer on 6 September 1951. I see from my ephemeris that on that date transiting Mars at 11 Leo and transiting Pluto at 20 Leo were opposite some of his Aquarius planets - near enough to be termed astrologically in opposition. Mars and Pluto are both planets with some negative connotations (aggression and death for instance).

Other dates springing to mind in relation to Aquarius, and most of Burroughs' natal planets were in February 1962, when Sun, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn were all in Aquarius, a rare occasion! They would have conjoined most of his natal Aquarius planets at some point. His famous novel "Naked Lunch" was first published in the USA 1962, which would have put him squarely in the spotlight.

The book was originally published with the title The Naked Lunch in Paris in July 1959 by Olympia Press. Because of US obscenity laws, a complete American edition (by Grove Press) did not follow until 1962

It'd be a job and a half to research dates and places for significant events in his life, then track transits of planets and compare with his natal chart. Even then, it wouldn't mean that those events could have been predicted. It'd mean, at best, that the period of time involved would be likely to have potentially thrown up some kind of significant event in the native's life.

Sackerson said...

That was interesting, thank you! Yes. that shooting - didn't he pass it off as some drunken/drugged William Tell thing?

Twilight said...

Sackerson ~ Yes. According to Wikipedia Joan Vollmer in 1946 began a relationship with William S. Burroughs, later becoming his common-law wife. In 1951, Burroughs killed Vollmer by shooting her in the head in what was apparently a drunken attempt at playing William Tell.

Interesting sidelight - Vollmer's date of birth was 4 February (1923)
Burrough's 5 February (1914).