Art under the Influence


The argument of mind expansion through imbibing substances be that alcohol or drugs has long been a point of discussion in artistic pursuits and in particular whether or not it improves what you produce.  Of course many is the artist, writer or band who has clung to this idea while slowly descending into irrelevance, idiocy and often death and talking of bands that did that the Doors spring nicely to mind, who of course took their name from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, in which he describes his experiences when taking mescaline one afternoon.  I’ve read the book and must admit it didn’t do a great deal for me, perhaps because I was not sitting in a sunny garden after just taking some peyote.  I was musing on this recently as I came across a somewhat disturbing, voyeuristic but also fascinating collection of self portraits by the artist Bryan Lewis Saunders.  Since 1995 Bryan has been drawing a self portrait of himself every day and has currently over 8,000 of them, i’ve no idea whether he became bored as he was doing this but for reasons best known to himself he decided to add chemical substances to the mix and has been taking a different drug every day and then drawing the self portrait (I’ve included a few in the post), a frankly scarily dangerous escapade I’d have thought which is having a serious effect on Bryan as he himself describes

“After experiencing drastic changes in my environment, I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of the self. So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence. Within weeks I became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage. I am still conducting this experiment but over greater lapses of time. I only take drugs that are given to me.”

I’m not sure what I think of it all (other than I wouldn’t recommend copying him) but there is an element of Hunter S Thompson’s gonzo journalism here which is fascinating.  Disturbing but fascinating and that is often what the best art is.








2 thoughts on “Art under the Influence

  1. Such a pity he’s decided to waste his talent in this way. So saying, the art world being the way it is, no doubt, once he’s either severely brain damaged from the drug experimentation and unable to draw or paint any more or dead, all those self portraits will become a lot more valuable.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I wrote the piece after watching the Paraolympic opening ceremony last night which was an artistic and creative celebration of enlightened thinking but what it also did was challenge me. Challenge my perceptions on many many levels. These pictures while very different also challenge me and make me think a lot, which is something that can be very valuable about art. Last night at the ceremony one of the most moving moments for me was having Ian Dury’s song Spasticus Autisticus blasting out – a song that was originally banned by the BBC. It contains the line “Hello to you out there in normal land. You may not comprehend my tale or understand!” A good quote for Bryan I think.

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