William Burroughs Meets Francis Bacon: See Never-Broadcast Footage (1982)

By Colin Marshall

The writing of William S. Burroughs and the paintings of Francis Bacon take us into often troubling but nevertheless compelling realities we couldn't possibly glimpse any other way. Some of that effect has to do with the inimitable (if often unsuccessfully imitated) styles they developed for themselves, and some with what was going on in their unusual lives as well as the even wilder realms of their minds. And though no scholars have yet turned up a Burroughs monograph on Bacon's art, or Bacon-painted illustrations for a Burroughs novel — just imagine Naked Lunch given that treatment — those minds did meet now and again in life, starting in Morocco six decades ago.

"The two men first met in Tangiers in the 1950s when Burroughs was technically on the run for murdering his wife after a 'shooting accident' during a drunken game of William Tell," writes Dangerous Minds' Paul Gallagher. "Bacon was then in a brutal and near fatal relationship with a violent sadist called Peter Lacey who used to beat him with a leather studded belt." None other than Allen Ginsberg made the introduction between the two men, "as he thought Bacon painted the way Burroughs wrote." But Burroughs saw more differences than similarities: "Bacon and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum," he once said. "He likes middle-aged truck drivers and I like young boys. He sneers at immortality and I think it’s the one thing of importance. Of course we’re associated because of our morbid subject matter."

Bacon and Burroughs reminisce about their first meeting — what they can remember of it, anyway — in an encounter filmed by the BBC for a 1982 documentary on the writer. "Arena followed him to the home and studio of old friend Francis Bacon, where he drops in for a cup of tea and a catch up," says the BBC's site. "This meeting has never been broadcast." But you can see their conversation presented in a ten-minute edit in the video above. Gallagher notes that the camera-shy Burroughs gets into the spirit of things only when the talk turns to his favorite subjects at the time: "Jajouka" — a Moroccan village with a distinct musical tradition — "Mayans, and immortality." Bacon, "waspish, bitchy, gleeful like a naughty schoolboy," throws out barbs left and right about his fellow artists and Burroughs' fellow writers.

Bacon also recalls his and Burroughs' "mutual friendship with Jane and Paul Bowles," the famously bohemian married couple known for their writing as well as their expat life in Morocco, "going on to discuss Jane Bowles’ mental decline and the tragedy of her last years being tended to by nuns, a situation which Bacon thought ghastly. Ironically, Bacon died just over a decade later being tended to by nuns after becoming ill in Spain (an asthma attack)." Even the most knowledgable fans of Burroughs, Bacon, and all the illustrious figures in their worldwide circles surely don't know the half of what happened when they got together. And though this ten-minute chat adds little concrete information to the record, it still gets us imagining what all these artistic associations might have been like — firing up our imaginations being the strong suit of creators like Bacon and Burroughs, even decades after they've left us to our own reality.

via Dangerous Minds

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Who Was Joan Vollmer, the Wife William Burroughs Allegedly Shot While Playing William Tell?

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.