William S. Burroughs
Some artists, like Picasso and Dali, were discovered when they were young and their talents grew to maturity before the public eye. Sometimes, however it takes… well, dying before the art world sits up and takes notice of you, This was certainly the case with Brion Gysin, the Canadian/British painter and author who long stood in the shadows, figuratively speaking, of William S. Burroughs, his lifelong friend and collaborator. Burroughs once said that Brion Gysin was the only man he ever truly respected.
Gysin is an artist whose work must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Of course this is said about every artist’s work, but it’s particularly true with Brion Gysin. What might appear to be random chicken scratch calligraphy when reproduced in a book, becomes ALIVE when seen in person. Seemingly careless hash marks become scenes of hundreds of people around a bonfire or a crowded Arab marketplace when you’re staring right at it.
The man was a master. And he left an awful lot of work behind. Although there were various Gysin gallery exhibits in New York while he was still alive—I recall being astonished by some large works on paper in a great 1985 show at the Tower Gallery—there was never a museum-level retrospective of Gysin’s work in the United States until 2010 at the New Museum in Manhattan:
One of the things Gysin is best know for is inventing the Dreamachine—a kinetic light sculpture that utilizes flicker effect to induce visions—a drugless turn-on.
FLicKer is a 2008 Canadian documentary about Gysin’s Dreamachine, directed by Nik Sheehan. Kenneth Anger, Marianne Faithfull, Gysin biographer John Geiger, Iggy Pop, Genesis P-Orridge, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, DJ Spooky and yours truly are interviewed.
H/T R.U. Sirius