Given a CV that includes heroin dealing, homicide and frequent criminal proceedings, not to mention stints in 1950s Mexico and Tangier when they were even more wild and windy than they are now, the note files of William S Burroughs – US manila file-folders – look nothing like you’d expect. Instead of the extremities you imagine from a man who shot the mother of his only child, or the Postmodern mediation of collaging analogous to his ‘cut-up’ literary style, the covers are bathed in luxurious, radiant colour. The author of Naked Lunch, buddy of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and spoken word performer decorated the files where he kept his ideas in the brightest, most vibrant hues. They also have a dynamism that echo the energy of action painting. Some of the folders, 100 of which are on show in London for the first time, have darker tones. Some look intensely scrawled, and some of the fragmentary text features words like ‘sad’ – hardly signs of joyousness. Yet the overall mood is almost upbeat. Few would attempt to analyse Burroughs’ graphic style, although colour fields and Anish Kapoor’s saturation colour spring to mind, but designers might enjoy the contrast between his writing and drawings. The latter have a visual appeal that is easy on the eye, while his books take considerable stamina.
Life-File: The Private File-Folders of William S Burroughs is at Riflemaker, 79 Beak Street, London W1, from 9 December until 17 January
By Sarah Frater