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article imageConjuring Burroughs Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Dec 12, 2013 in Entertainment
New York - Katelan Foisy was a drug addict by the time she was 20. She lost both her lover and her best friend in a short span of time, but found inspiration as an artist and businesswoman through an unlikely source: the work of William S. Burroughs.
Burroughs is perhaps best-known as the gravel-voiced, fedora-wearing, gun-enthusiast author behind such cryptic works as Naked Lunch (1959), Queer (1985), Cities Of The Red Night (1981), and the semi-autobiographical Junkie (1953). In 1951, the author mistakenly shot his wife in a drunken party game. Traveling across North Africa and Europe for years, Burroughs wrote through a haze of heroin and opiates, coming to terms with his homosexuality and his wife's tragic death. Having pioneered the famous cut-up technique, he passed on at the age of 83 at his home in Kansas.
That same year, that Katelan Foisy, an artist, model, author, publisher and tarot card reader, moved from small-town Massachusetts to New York City. She'd been accepted into the Pratt Institute, where her artist-heroes Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had once attended.
“I didn’t know if I was making the right decision,” she recalls, sitting in her Queens kitchen, sipping a cup of rooibos tea one chilly late autumn day. “I thought, “Alright Burroughs, you have to give me a sign here: if this is the right decision, let me know. And the first person I met in New York was his godson.”
Foisy is a friendly, welcoming presence, her dark features contrasting with her pale skin, her delicate frame offset, at least today, by her glamorous red dress, elegant high bun hairdo, and cat-eye makeup. The first thing you notice walking into her Queens apartment is the gigantic painting of deceased English soul singer Amy Winehouse hanging in her kitchen; Foisy has portrayed her as a kind of martyred saint, with vibrant colors recalling Latin folk art. Along another wall is a massive altar, made up of various religious ephemera, including many figurines in the likeness of Santa Muerte, the popular Mexican religious figure outlawed by the Vatican; there's also an enormous portrait of the so-called "Voodoo Queen of New Orleans," Marie Laveau, in the center, proudly sitting amongst a veritable congregation of lit candles. Everything – the paintings, the altar, even the red dress – are a nod to Foisy's spiritual beliefs and her connection with powerful, female-centric divinities. That doesn't in any way dilute her love of Burroughs, however; Foisy sees all of her muses as part and parcel of her spiritual beliefs and practises.
“Maybe it's a scarlet fever thing,” she muses. “(Burroughs) said having scarlet fever opens a portal into another other world that helps creatively, so one can walk in-between worlds. I think that's an appeal … it's what a lot of artists are trying to do within their work.”
Katelan Foisy s painting of singer Amy Winehouse.
Katelan Foisy's painting of singer Amy Winehouse.
Foisy was thirteen years old when she read Junkie; it coincided with her discovering her gift for tarot reading. “I taught myself,” she says proudly. “I was in Cape Cod. I found this deck... it was super-simple and I really wanted it, and my family, they were sort of spiritual – my grandmother taught me about herbs but not reading cards – so I thought, “Okay, well, I'm part-gypsy, so maybe I should look into this.”
She shied away from studying books or memorization of decks, saying it would “get in the way of the reading... it just sort of... jogs whatever is coming freely. So I studied the various images and tried to figure them out for myself.”
And where did Burroughs fit into all of this? “I was in this phase where I wanted to read everything about this underbelly of a world,” she recalls, “When I read Naked Lunch, I was completely obsessed, because it was so crazy. I started reading about the cut-up technique after that, and I kept going through (the book) and thinking, “Wow, there's so many layers, it doesn't matter where you start. That's fascinating; you could start in the middle, or four chapters in, or finish the book, then go back to those chapters, but it still reads in – this sounds so bad – but in a choose-your-own-adventure way!”
Foisy lets out a hearty laugh, remembering the adventures she chose in her youth. She can laugh now, but it was a painful time, one she documented with the release in 2010 of her memoir, Blood and Pudding, published by her own company, Knickerbocker Circus. It was published with the encouragement of author/musician Jim Carroll, best-known for his own memoir, 1978's The Basketball Diaries.
“My teen self was really lost,” Foisy recalls, finishing her tea. “I didn’t understand what co-dependency was. I couldn’t understand why i was depressed and angry... I didn’t know how to handle things. I had petite-mal seizures and was on heavy doses of medication to keep them in line so in a way I didn’t even feel like I had a personality. I always felt stuck.”
The book, with its mix of first person narratives, letters, conversations, and fragmented observations, is very Burroughs-esque, but is also shot through with zesty tone reflecting the giddiness of youth. It documents the intense years Foisy and her cousin and best friend Holly spent chasing dreams, addictions, and love, and the intense relationship she shared with boyfriend Brian, about whom she writes, "The first time I met Brian I fell in love with him." It's an intense, beautiful read that channels all the intense, vibrant feelings of youth and youthful emotions. Was Foisy being cryptic in titling such a work after a bodily fluid and a favored dessert?
Katelan Foisy based Blood and Pudding on a collection of personal written and audio journals.
Katelan Foisy based Blood and Pudding on a collection of personal written and audio journals.
Katelan Foisy
“The title came from a moment in a truck stop,” she tells me, late one night. “Holly and I were standing in the doorway. She was smoking a cigarette and we were talking about chocolate pudding. We kind of had an obsession with it... we were on a mission for it. And we were talking about what our lives would be like when we got older, if we would ever stray from each others' lives. She slid down the side of the wall and one of us –I don't remember who – said, “Blood is thicker than pudding.” It stuck. It was our phrase.”
That bond was tragically severed with Holly's death. Foisy was 22. With her passing, Foisy says she became “more in tune with the spiritual aspects of my life, because we did so much spiritual work together. I still had my destructive times but I felt that even if I didn’t know my purpose or didn’t feel I had one eventually it would be shown to me. And it was, over time.”
With encouragement from comic book writer Warren Ellis, Foisy embarked on a path that would embrace her artistic as well as spiritual passions. Along with running her own publishing house, Knickerbocker Circus, Foisy is writing a book on tarot, together with creating and designing her own cards – which will feature people in her artistic circle as well as inspirations like Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Like her many other projects, Foisy points at the influence of her muse, Williams Burroughs, in the book and deck's creation.
“Nine years after I met Burroughs' godson (Orien McNeill), we started dating,” she says, with a fond smile. “It was a very beatnik relationship. He was lying down on this mattress one night, and we were listening to (Burroughs' 1993 recording) Words Of Advice For Young People. (Orien) asked, how many cards are in a tarot deck? And at that exact moment, Burroughs said, “You are not eighteen, you are 78!” I wrote that down on the ground in chalk, and Orien said, “You should do a tarot deck.” Why didn't I think of that? The thought did not even cross my mind.”
Foisy s painting of author William S. Burroughs.
Foisy's painting of author William S. Burroughs.
Foisy hopes to publish the deck, complete with her original designs, in the near future. She's working with business partners and longtime friends to develop her ideas while balancing running Knickerbocker Circus, modeling, and an acting gig in the history-meets-interactive theater piece Speakeasy Dollhouse, performed on the Lower East Side every Saturday night. How does she balance all of her pursuits? With a bit of guidance, and some of her own magic, of course.
"At any sort of time, there's a wave of things that happens. Sometimes your art stuff is doing really well, sometimes not so you have other thing to back you up," she explains. But everything -good or bad - flows back to Burroughs, a figure she feels is very present in her day-to-day life.
"He writes books that are amazing to read, but they don't make you feel good afterwards, they make you feel, "Ugh... I pushed myself to read that! I feel a little dirty now but I'm okay with it!" And, I'm okay with going into that world."
Katelan Foisy s private altar to William S. Burroughs  designed entirely with found items.
Katelan Foisy's private altar to William S. Burroughs, designed entirely with found items.
More about William S Burroughs, Burroughs, Author, Writer, William Tell
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