Ballard and the Visual Arts

Sam Francis
Visual Art and the Fiction of J.G. Ballard

23 Minutes


Critical accounts of J.G. Ballard’s fiction have often noted its powerful visuality; Ballard has described himself as a ‘failed painter’, and his work makes allusion to and draws on a wide range of visual materials, particularly twentiethcentury avant-garde visual art. Building from detailed attention paid in my PhD thesis to Ballard’s uses of visual art, this paper will address the question of how we are to conceive of, and speak usefully about, the relationship between Ballard’s verbal texts and visual texts with which they interact.

I shall make use of recent art-theoretical work focusing on the relationship between the visual and the verbal, in particular W.J.T. Mitchell’s interrogation of what constitutes the difference between image and text in his Iconology and Picture Theory. Within the context of an attempt to build a theoretical basis for future research on the interaction of Ballard’s fiction with the visual, and on the interaction of literature and the visual more generally, the paper will engage briefly but in detail with specific Ballard texts, hopefully using visual aids to allow me to speak in detail about particular images.

I will discuss Ballard’s annexation of particular Surrealist paintings in his early catastrophe novels. I shall then explore aspects of The Atrocity Exhibition’s interaction with both Surrealist and Pop Art images. The paper will situate Ballard’s use of art within the broader context of the visuality of twentiethcentury culture and open up space for further critical examinations of the relationship between his fiction, art, and visual material.

Biographical note: Sam Francis gained his PhD from the University of Leeds in December 2006, for his thesis ‘A Critical Reading of “Inner Space” in Selected Works of J.G. Ballard’. Major research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first century fiction, science fiction and avant-garde art and literature. He is planning a book on the pornographic in postmodern fiction dealing with the work of J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs and Angela Carter.