Powerful. Political. Peaceful yet destructive; complementary yet contradictory.
An eclectic exhibition that will debut at the Gonzo Gallery on Friday is expected to check all of those boxes.
Titled “Flower Power x Fire Power,” the exhibition will feature drawings, photographs and paintings by Beat Generation writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
“What we’re trying to do here is also show some things that have never been seen and do something that’s never been done,” said D.J. Watkins, owner and director of the gallery, from the 1,500-square-foot space on Thursday.
The gallery will host two opening receptions from 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, followed by a panel talk from 5-7 p.m. Sunday. The exhibition will be on display at the gallery through July 31.
While Ginsberg and Burroughs are best known as writers, one objective of the exhibition is to showcase the two beyond their literary work.
Both activists and founding members of the 1950s literary movement known as the Beat Generation, Ginsberg was a renowned poet and Burroughs an innovative writer and author. The pair enjoyed a profound friendship of more than 50 years.
Showcasing the relationship and dynamic between the two is another goal of “Flower Power x Fire Power,” said exhibition curator Yuri Zupancic from the gallery Friday.
The title is a nod to each artist’s ethos: While organizing peaceful protests amid the counterculture movement of the 1960s, Ginsberg invented the concept of “flower power.” Burroughs, meanwhile, believed society exists in “a war universe” and became known for his shotgun art.
Beginning Friday, one side of the Gonzo Gallery will exclusively present works by Ginsberg, including 1980s sketches showing his signature satire, spontaneity and enlightenment. The other wall will be dedicated to Burroughs’ ephemera, photographs and paintings, including those created with shotguns and exploding paint cans to create wild, unpredictable patterns. Burroughs also painted abstract calligraphic forms on file folders that housed his literary works.
The back of the gallery will feature a “Beat Generation montage” of both artists’ works, including a collection of never-before-seen photos shot by Ginsberg during a 1961 spring trip with Burroughs in Tangier, Morocco. Rare vintage posters and a recent portrait of Ginsberg taken by Paul D. Miller — who will partake in the panel discussion on Sunday — will also pepper the mashup.
“It’s complicated, but that’s also what’s great about it,” Zupancic said of marrying the two artists’ work under one roof. “And that’s what was great about their relationship.”
In today’s political climate, reexamining a past example of productive yet divergent dialogue is perhaps more important than ever, Zupancic said.
“Flower Power x Fire Power” embodies people who “let themselves think very freely and form very much their own ideas — and even if they contradict the ideas of their best friend, they realize the value of having different perspectives and sharing those and learning from each other,” he said.
The parallels between Ginsberg’s flower power movement and the current period of intense political division amid a summer that commenced with peaceful protesting also makes the exhibition a timely one.
“In these crazy times, it’s important to look back at figures from the past who faced a lot of similar fears and dangers and unrest,” Zupancic said. “[Ginsberg and Burroughs] were models of productive, dynamic conversation — and that conversation is what we’re trying to continue.”