PAINTINGS: A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She Was Dead

a-year-later

Richard Bledsoe “A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead”

acrylic on canvas 12″ x 12″

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The genre was once referred to as History Painting, and it was considered the highest form of artistic expression. For hundreds of years, ambitious artists poured their skills into epic works which depicted scenes from not only history, but from religion, mythology, and literature as well.

The Modern Art era did a lot to sever visual art from this traditional engagement with story telling. This was a huge mistake.There’s nothing to be gained from trying to substitute theoretical intellectual stylings for the passion, drama and resonance of imagery inspired from narrative, whether derived from reality or imagination.

The Remodernist artist is a story teller, visually defining essential moments in the never ending action of the world, the mind, and the spirit.

A few years back I launched into a series of paintings inspired by a favorite book: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Its controversial reputation obscures many of the elements that I really enjoy about it. It’s totally disjointed and incoherent compared to a conventional novel, but amongst the fragments it is built from are elements of hard boiled noir mysteries, adventure tales, paranoid science fiction, wicked humor, cheap porno, and most poignantly, autobiography.

Burroughs was the black sheep son of wealthy parents. His drug habits and homosexuality kept him in trouble and on the run in the 1940s and 1950s. He and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer wound up in Mexico City. In 1951 an awful event occurred. While they were wasted and partying, Burroughs suggested to Joan it was time for “their William Tell routine.” Joan put a glass on top of her head. Burroughs tried to shoot it off and missed, hitting and killing Joan instead. It was a stupid spontaneous act that haunted Burroughs for the rest of his days. He fled to Morocco and sank into severe addiction. It was in this deranged state he wrote the rambling pages that his friend  Jack Kerouac later assembled at random and typed into the manuscript that became Naked Lunch.

Many of my “Naked Lunch” paintings are crude, rough, and unfinished, which suits the subject matter. I flipped through the book, and just like Burroughs wrote by scrambling random words together, I pulled out random quotes to base my paintings on.

“A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead” is the best of the series, so far. Painted a few years ago, I remember how moved I was by the quote when I read it. I read into it the futility of denial, and how truth and remembrance must have kept getting through to Burroughs even through his drug haze. It’s haunting, and I feel this painting captures the same sense of sadness and accusation.

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4 thoughts on “PAINTINGS: A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She Was Dead

  1. Of course the question has to be, (which I’m sure has been asked) is: Did Burroughs miss in Mexico City or did he actually hit what he was aiming at?

  2. He always claims he aimed at the top of the glass. He blamed some malevolent outside force. In the 1990s Burroughs collaborated with Tom Waits on an album called “The Black Rider.” Part of the lyrics of the song Crossroads state “Now a man figures it’s his bullets, so it will
    take what he wants
    But it don’t always work that way

    You see, some bullets is special for a single aim
    A certain stag, or a certain person
    And no matter where you aim, that’s where the bullet will end up
    And in the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser’s wand
    And points where the bullet wants to go”

  3. Waits eh. Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night!
    Pretty much agree with you. Afterall she’s the one who got up and put the glass on her head.

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