Art Clip of the Week: William S. Burroughs' Shotgun Art

Fin Murphy

Guns played an important a role in William S. Burroughs' life. An owner of dozens of firearms and an opponent to gun control laws, Burroughs used his literary skills in its defence with snappy quotes and dozens of lines, even though his intoxicated gun handling scarred his life and those around him.

In 1951, Burroughs was in Mexico City with his wife Joan Vollmer, a relationship fraught due to Burroughs' addictions and neglectful behaviour. While in a bar, Burroughs suggested a shooting game with Vollmer, who complied by placing a glass on her head. He missed, killing her instantly. The surrounding case was a murky affair of fled countries and shady bribes, with Burroughs eventually given a two-year suspended sentence for homicide. He would later contentiously cite the event as a creative engendering; 'I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death', Burroughs wrote in 1985.

Earlier in that decade, Burroughs channelled his love of guns into a more creative endeavour, which he luckily didn't need good aim for. Burroughs' shotgun paintings are self explanatory, depictions of process somewhat comparable to his cut-up writing technique. Burroughs compared it to the work of Pollock and he exhibited in places like the Centre Pompidou and the Guggenheim Museum. Maybe he shelled out a load of back-handers for those too, who knows?


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