Early life and education
Brion Gysin (1916-1986) was a British-Canadian painter, writer, sound poet, performance artist, and inventor. He played a significant role in the development of the cut-up technique and influenced many artists and writers of his time, including the Beat Generation and beyond. Born John Clifford Brian Gysin on January 19, 1916, in Taplow, England, Gysin was raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, after his father’s death during World War I. Gysin attended the prestigious Downside School, a Catholic boarding school in England, where he developed an interest in art and literature. Despite his Catholic education, he became an atheist.
In 1934, Gysin moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. He joined the Surrealist Group and began associating with renowned artists, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Max Ernst. In 1935 he was expelled from the group by André Breton.
World War II and post-war years
After serving in the U.S. army during World War II, Gysin focused on writing and art. He published a biography of Josiah “Uncle Tom” Henson, titled “To Master, a Long Goodnight: The History of Slavery in Canada” (1946), and took an 18-month course on the Japanese language and calligraphy. In 1949, he became one of the first Fulbright Fellows, researching the history of slavery.
Morocco and the Beat Hotel
In the early 1950s, Gysin moved to Tangier, Morocco, where he opened a restaurant called The 1001 Nights. The restaurant featured performances by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, as well as acrobats and fire-eaters. It was in Tangier that Gysin met novelist William S. Burroughs, beginning their lifelong friendship and collaboration.
In 1958, Gysin returned to Paris and lived at the infamous Beat Hotel. It was during this time that he discovered the cut-up technique, which he later shared with Burroughs. The technique would become a significant aspect of Burroughs’ work and influence American literature.