Jon Blumb, Portrait of William S. Burroughs
born 1956, Peoria, Illinois
Heading for Home, Wakarusa Flats, Kansas, March 4, 1994, 1994
from William S. Burroughs in Prints: A Portfolio of Original Photographs 1990-1997
gelatin silver print, printed 2004
Museum purchase: Helen Foresman Spencer Art Acquisition Fund, 2005.0094.15
William S. Burroughs, the subject of Jon Blumb’s photographic portrayal of the nomadic writer and Beat Generation icon, has several remarkable and unexpected connections to Ann Hamilton and the presepio figures that appear in her Figura prints. All three—Burroughs, Hamilton, presepio figures— share a surprising and interconnected history that seems poetically well-suited to Hamilton’s site-responsive creative process.
The lone, aging figure of Burroughs, cast by Blumb in a luminous play of light and dark contrasts, expresses both fortitude and fragility as he moves through the Kansas landscape. Framed in a similar way as Burroughs, the Spencer’s presepio figures, as reconceived in Hamilton’s hauntingly beautiful prints, too reveal and conceal the weight of time and age. Like the itinerant Burroughs, who seemingly out of context came to Lawrence, so too did these eighteenth-century Italian dolls, only to have Hamilton inscribe on them their unique history of place, time, and travel.
Not only did Burroughs and the presepio figures find an adopted home in Lawrence. Ann Hamilton did as well, albeit temporarily, studying at the University of Kansas for a BFA in textile design and graduating in 1979, just two years prior to Burroughs’ arrival in Lawrence.
Samantha Lyons is a History of Art graduate student at the University of Kansas.