Sunday, December 28, 2008

Brion Gysin at October Gallery

“I may write only what I know in space: I am that I am”
Brion Gysin, Notes on Painting

Brion Gysin was interested in the juxtapositon of word and image, and he developed a unique visual language combining repeat-image calligraphics (he studied Japanese and Arabic as a young man), photo-based work, collage, and some of the most extraordinary landscape painting of the Sahara and Tangier. But his calligraphic investigations were central to his art and at the end of his life a patron donated studio space in order that Gysin could make one final work: a large ten-panel calligraphic piece inspired by a Japanese makemomo or folding book called Calligraffiti of Fire.

The work is some 16-meters long and designed to be ‘read’ from right to left (i.e. in Eastern picture space). It begins with Gysin’s personal sigil that ignites panel one before racing in blazing solar yellows and oranges across a further nine canvases; the glorious yellow colours vibrate into the room and that the end panels have to sit at angles to the middle of the piece in this installation only adds to the dancing, life-enhancing journey of Gysin's signature.

A chance to see Brion Gysin's work in the flesh is rare in any event but a chance to see Calligraffiti of Fire is rarer still. The work does not belong to a public institution and has been shown only once since it's original exhibition at Galerie Samy Kinge in Paris in 1986. Sadly, it’s current home is a Parisian bank-vault.

Gysin was dying with emphysema when he made the painting, which was not only his last but his most ambitious. Once he had finished Gysin proclaimed it "THE picture of my lifetime", and I like to think of it as his joyful summing up. It's on until 7th February 2009.

Brion Gysin
Calligraffiti of Fire
October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester Street, London WCN 3AL

There are also a number of smaller paintings and calligraphic pieces in the exhibition, in particular a great roller-and-ink and photo college Burroughs in Tangier (1974).

October Gallery are also screening the new Nik Sheenan's new Gysin documentary FLicKeR on 31st January.
See also Burroughs Life-File at Rifemaker (until 17th January) and the Royal Academy GSK Contemporary Season Burroughs Live (until 19th January).