An eclectic life: Brion Gysin’s North African odyssey

The unconventional British artist Brion Gysin (1916-1986), whose work was heavily influenced by North Africa’s Sahara Desert, is the subject of an intriguing solo exhibition at London’s October Gallery, called Unseen Collaborator.

The Africa-focused gallery has had a long relationship with Gysin, being the first to show the artist’s work in the UK in 1981. This new exhibition brings together a number of previously unseen paintings, from Marrakesh crowd scenes to calligraphy and grid works and architectural photographs.

It also shows us Gysin’s work in other fields, including collaborations with writers and musicians like the jazz maestro Steve Lacy; and a rarely-shown film of the artist by Francoise Janicot, Brion’s Devils. The work on display spans three decades, from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

Gysin had his first retrospective in the United States in 2010, but is little-known in his home country, perhaps due to the fact that he spent most of his life abroad.

Influenced by cultural practices in New York, London, Paris and Tangier, Gysin produced thoroughly eclectic work and was once described by the writer William S. Burroughs as the “only man I truly respect.” The two artists collaborated frequently, in both writing and painting, giving their creative collaboration the nickname ‘Third Mind.’

Gysin and Burrough’s radical experimentation has influenced iconic cultural figures from David Bowie to Patti Smith to Keith Haring. Underground movements including the Beat Generation also came under their sphere of influence.

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Unseen Collaborator is on at October Gallery, London, until 3rd October 2015.

Photo credit: Brion Gysin, Night in Marrakesh, 1968, work on paper 19  x 22 cm. Photo: Jonathan Greet, courtesy October Gallery, London.