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JG Ballard’s Cryptic Billboard Series

confusedCreative thinkers often come up with the most abstract ways to express their art. JG Ballard, an English dystopian fiction author in the 1950s, created extremely cryptic and seemingly nonsensical billboards that did just that.

Ballard was an unusual character. He was one of the first New Wave science fiction writers; his writing style is so distinctive that “Ballardian” is an actual word used to describe novels. His novels, The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash (the former of which was banned in the US), drew sharp criticisms from a wide range of communities.

Before his career as a novelist began, Ballard put together a series of billboards which made no sense to viewers — until now. Appearing to be random words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs plastered on a billboard, they drew attention simply for being odd. The billboard series left even those who closely studied Ballard’s work scratching their heads. Recently, those scholars have discerned that the series may have been encrypted replicas of Salvador Dali paintings.

Ballard was a surrealism enthusiast, and Dali was his favorite artist. The placement of the words on the billboards, as well as the choice of words themselves, appear to match up with some of Dali’s paintings, including Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of a New Man and one of his most famous Persistence of Memory. In the billboard matching Persistence, there is a repetition of the word “time,” and a large “T-12” in the center of the board seems to reflect the clocks in the painting which point to 12. Additionally, the placement of the text matches up with various subjects in the painting, including the words “total bureau” being placed where a shape in sand looks like a desk.

Was this truly Ballard’s message with the billboards? We may never really know. His mind seemed to work in strange ways. One critic even said he was “beyond psychiatric help,” a statement of which Ballard was proud. Artists always find new mediums in which to create their art, and Ballard simply chose a way that we are still struggling to decipher.

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