Burroughs exhibit elicits strong response

— Fred Aldrich did not know who William S. Burroughs was until, on a hippy pilgrimage to a small village in Columbia in the early '70s, an old native woman told him that Burroughs had been in the settlement during his explorations in South America.

Aldrich, who has lived since 1971 in rural Jefferson County, didn't pay attention to the name again until the late '70s, when a friend called saying that Burroughs was looking for a place to practice his target shooting.

The rest, as they say, is history.

For more than 15 years, about every two weeks, when the weather is nice, Burroughs goes out, often with visitors, to Aldrich's spread and they shoot.

"It's a social event as much as target shooting," Aldrich said. "And shooting for sport and often for art has a heritage that, unfortunately, is dying. The sport has many mental and physical attributes."

Aldrich, in Los Angeles with his childhood friend, Jim Langley, a Phoenix photographer, spent the opening day of "Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts" looking at the exhibit and wondering why in the world so many photographers who take pictures of Burroughs make him look ghostly.

"He photographs very well," Langley said. "He's very alive, not gray and deathly like those portraits upstairs."

David Bradshaw, a New Orleans-based artist with two pieces in the exhibition, said, "I don't understand why a photographer like Annie Leibovitz insists on photographing William as lifeless. That picture looks like a damn Munch painting."

Bradshaw is an expert marksman and ballistics specialist who creates languid sculptures by blowing up steel sheets with various types of explosives.

"Those pictures remind me of a day I dread," Aldrich said. "They look like death masks."

However, the trio agreed, the exhibition was powerful.

"No one seeing this show will be unaffected," Aldrich said. "People will either be very much in tune with what William is doing or else be totally repulsed.

"Much of what he does could be construed as disturbing because it evokes some response at our deepest levels. We are all disturbed by some parts of ourselves. That is not derogatory or negative; it is simply a visceral level of communication with reality."

Langley said, "What struck me was the incredible images that come out his mouth. Images are what he eats, millions of images."

Friday, the first day the exhibit was open to the public, saw steady streams of patrons, many taking extra time in front of "The Dream Machine" and watching the short, experimental films in the gallery space.

A comment book at the exit of the exhibit was filling rapidly with responses, such as "The works of a very disturbed mind," "Sick. Sick. Sick." and "Historical perspective on the cutting edge of artistic mind exploration."

Lawrence native and Kansas University graduate Seth Wiley, who moved to Los Angeles in 1994, said he never understood how revered Burroughs was until Wiley moved from Lawrence.

"I personally did not realize what a huge impact Burroughs has had on American culture until I moved to L.A.," he said. "When I told people I was from Lawrence, inevitably they would ask, 'Do you know Burroughs?'"

Wiley, an avid book collecter, owns a rare, signed edition of Burroughs' "The Seven Deadly Sins," a series of seven woodblock prints and seven screenprinted texts cataloging the infamous transgressions.

Although more drawn to the personal observations of the Burroughs scrapbooks than the paintings, Wiley said he was awed by the sheer breadth of material the exhibit covered

"In general, the exhibit overwhelmed me," Wiley said. "To be so in-depth and to capture so much work in such a personal light is quite an accomplishment for the curator.

"Moreover, the early scrapbooks and cut-ups are unique and demonstrate his ability to extrapolate elements from various media. When William Burroughs looks at the world, he looks at more than one world."

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