When painting Burroughs I lost ten days thinking it was three. I was oversaturated and I had underslept. The soundtrack for this piece: Cut-ups with Brion Gysin, Burroughs interviews, the spoken word of Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg, Anais Nin's Henry and June, Hasil Adkins, Gil Scot Heron, SUSPENSE, Antonin Artaud and Edith Piaf. I was playing my friends grandfather's mistress in a play, a cruel woman in love with someone else's husband. Everything was rich. I wore velvet, took a trip to Sleepy Hollow, lit dark incense and worked in front of my boveda with candles lit.
Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it 'creative observation.' (William S. Burroughs)
Before I started this piece I asked him what he wanted, how he wanted to be painted. You have to ask someone how they want to be painted before you start, or at least in my case you do. You see, I have this altar and it's changed over the years but one thing has remained constant. There was always a place for Burroughs.
A NOT SO BRIEF HISTORY
One of my best friends in High School was Nicole Gonzalez Knowlton. We loved Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Patti Smith and Jim Carroll. We travelled to Seattle and San Francisco to see spoken word events and music festivals. She was the writer and I was the photographer, the painter. I wanted to be the writer. I never was. We introduced each other to Burroughs books on dreams. I wrote my senior year paper from the headspace of Burroughs. I received an A with the comment that the way I could channel his writing style and thoughts was creepy. My mom brought me to the library so I could research his paintings from an art book that had become out of print. I tried to walk out with it. I lived and breathed Burroughs. I would dream about him too. Sometimes we would be sitting in grass surrounded by millions of moths and butterflies. I remember it was a hill in San Francisco and I thought it was weird to have a dream about Burroughs and San Francisco. Other times it was darker. I once had a dream he was hiding behind doors and waiting for me. He'd jump out and attack me. It would take 2-3 people to get him off me. I would wake up with large bruises on my legs. The summer of 1997 I decided I would finally write him a letter. The day I was to mail it he died. I was heartbroken. August 1997 I moved to New York. The first person I met was Orien and oddly enough he was Burroughs godson. He introduced me to his father Malcolm McNeill a good friend of Burroughs. A man that worked with him on a number of different projects. A confidant. I spent a number of days with Malcolm asking him about the friendship. He told me Burroughs had given him his former apartment, an apartment that would become a home of sorts for me in NYC. Later while going through With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker I found a passage and a small picture of old Bill in that very home. I closed my eyes.
Orien and I started dating in 2006. We made an altar to Burroughs and took note of odd coincidences. Orien's mom had ferrets, much to our surprise we found out old Bill had a fondness for the animal and kept them in the home. We set up strange altars which we later found to be deities that he worked with. We skimmed the bookshelves while smoking rolled cigarettes. Often we'd find ourselves in exact locations mentioned in Junky. We wrote and worked and lived our lives in a drunken haze. Once we found what looked like a curse on an old piece of paper. That curse has since disappeared. We drank vodka and played out scenes from the old boys life. We broke up a year later. Sometimes relationships can be too intense for you own good. We remained good friends afterward.
In 2008 I went to England for a gallery show. While there I took a side trip to Orton Longueville to visit someone I had never met. Her name was Sheryl and we had had many conversations on Vodou and espiritism. The first night at the pub she was flooded with messages. I was shocked at how good she was as I hadn't told her anything really personal about me or the connection to Burroughs. He came through with messages and insight and a little helpful advice for someone dealing with the estate.
I started painting the piece on October 12th. I placed the sketch down and started to mix paint. I knew with Burroughs I couldn't listen to just anything so I put on some interviews with him. The paint brush dipped and swirled in the paint. I remembered carrying around a tape recorder experimenting with my own cut ups as a teenager. I lit a candle on the altar and let the words and brush guide me.
But this painting was different than most. I had to step away from it a lot. It made me dizzy to look directly at it. Something was playing with me. I started to document everything.
From an email:
It's putting itself together, slowly with thought, like the piece itself is thinking of the direction it wants to go in. So I started to think of my Amy Winehouse piece and I started to realize there was a connection between the two. In the Amy piece I added a key. Like I felt I had to because somehow she was the key to something. Well I found this weird looking rusty key the other day and felt like it needed to be on this painting. And then I thought that there is something to all these keys, I mean I know Eleggua is my daddy but these people and keys and Eshu are all connected. So I painted more. I painted Burroughs and those who saw it said "It seems like it's alive Katelan. The way he looks at you is a bit creepy." People have said with the Amy piece that they felt like her spirit was in it. I digress, so I'm painting and it's coming along great. And last night I go to Cynthia's reading and Dean Haspiel and Chris Miskiewicz are there and we all go out to dinner after and I'm sitting next to Chris and I keep noticing this key around his neck. So I ask him about it because it's odd and I've been feeling the need to wear a key, plus two people that I've given keys to both had strange things happen to them after I gave them the keys and oddly enough it has a tie to Australia but that's another story. So Chris tells me it's from his grandmother's house and I touch the key for a moment because it's exactly like one that I have that showed up out of nowhere. So now I'm just thinking of keys and Eleggua.
I get home and I start painting more until I fall asleep and I wake up and my mind is racing. I go to the park and start writing feverishly because I have a story in me, except it's a comic and not a story and
I'm trying to write things down as fast as they're coming and all I can think of is "Ah Pook is here, Ah Pook" is here and I'm like "oh shit I'm channeling." So at this point I go home and I start to paint and the painting is making me dizzy and I can't look into Burrough's eyes because I start to space out and lean closer into the painting. I'm losing myself in this painting and I can feel it. The snake disa ppears as I paint him, Burroughs eyes seem to guide my hand. I know I'm going absolutely mad. So I start painting symbols. The ones used in chaos magic but I paint them secretly into the painting under layers of paint. I paint the hanged man and I realize that's Burrough's card. I always want to paint him as the High Priest but he's the hanged man and then I start painting Esu symbols and I'm like, why am I painting these and I realize that so much of magic has to do with Eshu, the crossroads. And it dawns on me that Burrough's talked a lot about Vodou but he wasn't in the religion and it all makes perfect sense. Orien and I also found that weird curse in the book shelf so that also makes sense. Malcolm was the one that illustrated Ah Pook is here. It was supposed to be a comic. The funny thing is Dan Goldman and I were having drinks the other night and he was like, Katelan you have got to do a comic. I'm seeing it. And then this happened.
All of these paintings are Eshu related. Eshu opens the doors to talk to the dead and each of these people I'm painting has some sort of Vodou or Eshu connection. Found out after Amy's death that she dabbled in Vodou. So it's been a whirlwind of a day and I'm not quite sure if any of this makes sense.
I started to crave sugar and tea. I don't drink a lot of tea so this is odd to me. I'm drinking tea throughout the day and into the evening replacing my 2-3 cups of coffee with it. This very same time I receive a photo of the Chelsea Hotel from my friend Robin. It's one she took while on holiday here. We were walking past it. I was reminiscing. I feel like these cravings aren't my own. I google "Burroughs and tea or coffee" This is what I find. Now I'm understanding that something much bigger than me is at work. I call my Mom. "Don't worry about it." She says, "You're just channeling."
“[...] the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!' What did they call such young people in Goethe's Germany?”
All of this happened between the last hours of October 20th and October 21st. I stayed at home painting in a fenzy and writing down everything. I listened to Kerouac and Ginsberg non stop only to take breaks in between for the sparrow or whatever else would take me out the trance. I finished him on October 22nd after signing his name to the piece. My friend Mani messaged me that day.
"I kept thinking there was some significance about Oct 21 and why everything was happening on that day. I looked it up, it seems his friend Kerouac passed away that day."
I tell her that makes a lot of sense and that there was a lot of energy charged up in that day.
On 20 October 1969, around 11 in the morning, Jack was sitting in his favorite chair, drinking whiskey and malt liquor, trying to scribble notes for a book about his father's print shop in Lowell, Mass. He suddenly felt sick to his stomach, which was nothing unusual, and headed for the bathroom. He began to throw up massive amounts of blood, and yelled to his wife, "Stella, I'm bleeding." Eventually he was convinced to go to the hospital and was taken out by ambulance to St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg. Blood continued to pour from his mouth and he underwent numerous transfusions. Eventually that evening Jack underwent surgery in an attempt to tie off all the burst blood vessels, but his liver, destroyed by years of drinking, would not let his blood clot. Kerouac finally died at 5:15 am the following morning, 21 October 1969, having never regained consciousness from the operation.
I tell Mani what is happening and how I've been looking up a lot of stuff about chaos magic. I've never really looked into it before but it makes a lot of sense to me. It makes sense why Burroughs was into it. There is something to be said for letting yourself explore madness.
Working with any magical system can lead you into madness, if you're up for it, as it were. The trick of course, is getting out of madness again, or at least learning to disguise it to everybody else. The fear of insanity when doing magic has to be confronted head-on. It will come whether you're messing with "things with tentacles" or the most basic book on new age witchcraft.
But if you want to stay the same, why are you doing magic in the first place? Consider instead that becoming 'obsessed' or dwelling on 'lurking things' might actually be good for you. In some ways, it is not dissimilar to childhood fantasies and fears about things under the bed. Whilst going into these states is undeniably weird, they are also intensely magical. I feel that part of the issue which makes these states problematic for some people is that as one tips into these weird states of mind, one begins to feel that one is losing control of what is happening. More accurately, one is losing the illusion that one is in control of what happens to one. It is the fear of what might happen, where one might go, that is often worse than the process itself. The fear holds us back from surrendering to the embrace of derangement. -Phil Hine Prime Chaos
Mani sends me this article after the painting is finished. "I think you should read this." She says. It's an interview with Burroughs on magic and painting and dreams. At the end she asks him if he thinks at some point he'll come through someone elses paintings.
From this I understand his work, his paintings on a much deeper level. How this all started I'm not sure. Perhaps painting at the altar in which I had partially created for him. From this I head into 40 days of madness where I create, jot down and live in the unknown. This is part of a bigger project and performance at the Merce with fellow artists. It was originally started as a 40 day Project by Sherene Schostak with a group of 6 women. I will be working specifically with Eleggua, Lilith and Samael. If others come that's fine too but these are my main three. I have created a tumblr for it. You can follow me there.
Smash the control images. Smash the control machine.
William S. Burroughs