Sunday, 24 March 2013

25 drugs, 25 portraits.

When browsing the internet the other day, I came across a series of pictures completed by an artist under the influence of LSD:

Further investigation has told me (and I can't vouch for how accurate it is) that the drawings were the product of a test conducted in the late 1950's by the US government into the effects of LSD on the mind. The artist's subject was the medical assistant who had injected him with the drug. I found the drawings profoundly interesting, as they allow you to chart the changes of the mind and the drug's affect on the (unnamed) artist's creative capacity. After 20 mins the drawing is still relatively sedate and pedestrian, meanwhile at 2 hrs 45 mins the drawing seems almost cubist and surrealist 

Thinking about this experiment, I wondered if any other artist had (willingly) done a similar test. After doing some research, I discovered Bryan Lewis Saunders, an artist from Washington DC. Saunders is a prolific self-portrait artist: having completed one a day for the past 21 years (totalling over 8000 drawings!). He is also a frequent (and indiscriminate) drug user. Saunders is famous for having created 25 individual self-portraits after taking 25 different drugs. It is extremely interesting - and, more often than not, disturbing - to see the effects these mind-altering drugs have on his creative process. He regularly incorporates the name of the drug he has taken into the portrait, and the images largely reflect the nature/effect of the drug; for example the 'mushrooms' portrait features psychedelic colours, whilst the 'cocaine' portrait is erratic, with harsh pencil lines.

The portraits largely speak for themselves. I'll just include a few of them, but the full scale is overwhelming. Find it here:

[For comparison, here's a photo of Saunders looking 'normal'(ish)]



Bath Salts

Cough Syrup


Crystal Meth

G13 (potent marijuana)







Sometimes, the drug heightens the artist's sensory perceptions, at other times, it dulls them. Clearly, this is a fascinating and perplexing oeuvre, which undoubtedly highlights the twenty-first century artists' ambition to persistently probe and challenge the boundaries of the 'conventional' art. Saunders finds and invents new, daring, extreme ways to depart from his own mind, in order to express himself in a fresh, original way.

NB: If this post interests you, take a look at my other post on Wain, who's schizophrenia altered his paintings. Are there similarities between Wain's and Saunders's work?



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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