william s. burroughs. creative observer

January 17 thru March 2, 2014

“To view these pictures puts the viewer in the position of the creative observer, who creates by observing. There is a distinct sensation when this creation occurs. One is looking at the picture, then a face, a narrow street filled with red mist, a mineshaft, an area of red huts swim into view… here is a man pissing against a wall. Behind the wall is a slag heap. Here is a thin, frail man in a suit of powdery gray ash. One can see the surface of the work move and shift and come into focus. The whole picture is ready to soar into space, almost ready …”

“Life does not present itself in clear patterns or chapters. I’m interested in the visual impact of transient images.”

-William S. Burroughs, excerpts from Painting & Guns, Hanuman Books, New York, NY 1992

The Lawrence Arts Center will present an exhibition of William Burroughs’ art and collections titled “Creative Observer” from January 17 thru March 2. The exhibition will include works from many periods of his life. This multimedia experience will provide insight into Burroughs’ prolific creative energy as well as revealing his ideas on observing art and people. Included in this exhibit will be collaborative works with such artists as Brion Gysin, Robert Rauschenberg, Kurt Cobain, Keith Haring, and George Condo, among others.


Purchase the William S. Burroughs: Creative Observer exhibition catalog at the Arts Center or online. Burroughs used mirrors, magnifying glasses, projected images and more to explore his paintings. The mirrored cover of this catalogue is designed to reflect and warp images as a tool for creative viewing.

The catalog examines WSB’s perspective on the intersection of viewer and work of art, as does his essay included in the catalog, “Creative Observer.” This is also the first Burroughs catalog to focus on his life in Lawrence, Kansas where he lived longer than he lived any other place.

Catalog produced in association with the WSB estate and through the generosity of Callahan Creek and Allen Press of Lawrence, Kansas.


There will be gallery talks, films, and performances connected to this exhibit, and William Burroughs will be the featured artist for the 2014 Lawrence Arts Center Benefit Art Auction on April 12, 2014. This exhibit is a co-project of the Lawrence Arts Center and the William S. Burroughs Estate and is curated by Ben Ahlvers and Yuri Zupancic.


Click to hear the Ben Ahlvers and Tom King talk with John Waters about his memories of William S. Burroughs. Waters will present a lecture at the Arts Center on February 20. The event is sold out, but a waiting list is available at the front desk.


William Seward Burroughs II was born February 5, 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri. Burroughs was an innovative writer and artist in many mediums. A primary figure in the Beat Generation, Burroughs went on to deeply influence a wide swath of culture and thought with dozens of books and hundreds of paintings, essays, spoken word performances and multi-media collaborations. Throughout his life, William Burroughs created visual art in many different mediums including paint, drawing, and collage and wrote about the connections he saw in creating art, writing, and the interactions of viewers. He lived and worked in Lawrence, Kansas from 1981 until his death in 1997. During that time Burroughs focused on creating art. Continuing his explorations in material and process he created a large body of work.

A Harvard graduate, Burroughs followed his fascinations through the underworlds and subcultures of international cities including Tangiers, Paris, New York, London, Chicago, New Orleans, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Athens, and Mexico City. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were key figures in his life and early literary career. In 1984, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Teaching him to “see” paintings, Brion Gysin was fundamental to Burroughs’ artistic development and shared with him such techniques as the “cut-up,” calligraphy, and painting with an engraved wallpaper roller. Other important Burroughs collaborators include Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg, George Condo, Philip Taaffe, Antony Balch, Ian Sommerville, Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and Kurt Cobain.

In 1981, Burroughs moved his home to Lawrence, Kansas, where he began to make shotgun art. He went on to develop a wide range of painting techniques. From 1982 until his late years, he prolifically created visual art. Burroughs’ work has since been featured in over fifty international galleries and museums including Royal Academy of the Arts, Centre Pompidou, Guggenheim Museum, New Museum, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum, Spencer Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art. On 2 August 1997, Burroughs passed away at home in Lawrence at the age of 83.