Bryan Lewis Saunders is an incredibly wild artist to say the least. From performance art and spoken word to painting self-portraits on drugs, Saunders breaks boundaries of self-expression. Included are photos from the project Saunders created where he took different drugs and created self-portraits. Many of these drugs I have never even heard before until now. Some of the drugs he used included the better-known drugs like cocaine, Adderall, LSD and marijuana but also used lesser-known drugs (at least to me) such as computer duster. Each drug elicited a different perception on how he viewed himself. Saunders sought out different types of drugs to connect with his inner self and see how each individual drug altered self-perception.
These portraits are astounding and twistedly beautiful. Each portrait allows others to see into the mind of an artist doing his craziest work. People can feel what he felt on each drug by looking at each picture. His art shocks people out of their comfort zone since drugs are such taboo subjects, especially today when most of the drugs he took are actually illegal. Although seemingly sketchy and scary, Saunders exploded the minds of viewers with his art.
But why take drugs? Looking at these different portraits, some of these feelings seem unreal. Many even question whether he was actually affected by the drugs. Take for example, his portrait after using nicotine gum (See above). It seems incredibly random for using a drug that simply calms the desire to smoke cigarettes. The portrait is almost like a stick figure a child would draw. So how on earth did this make him feel that way? Thus here lies the beauty of self-perception; it is what he saw of himself and no one else. No one would have the same experience and that is something so beautiful that people want to criticize. To be able to experience something so raw and mind altering gave Saunders the ability to blow people’s minds with his intense art.
Since the brain is such a beautifully complex organ, vastly differing from person to person, every experience is different. It leaves much open to interpretation, allowing each viewer to be able to connect and if they can’t necessarily connect due to not experiencing the drug in their lifetime, then they can appreciate the beauty of how the mind can work on drugs. He is not promoting drug use by any means, but to think that drugs helped create something so wild is rad. However, this brings up the issue of taking these drugs in general. Most of these drugs are illegal, with the exception of some of the prescription drugs.
How is taking drugs technically art and not illegal here then? This grey area between art and crime is tricky to deal with. He created overwhelmingly intense works of art but did so through illegal means. His motivation wasn’t to break the law; it was to display his perception of himself on the drugs. But then why isn’t smoking marijuana and tagging legal? Someone could easily argue that graffiti is art and but yet those who create graffiti on walls aren’t deemed artists.
Saunders already made it in the art world so to speak- he has and is continuously creating self-portraits and performing spoken word. Yet a teenager who smoked a joint and tagged a wall isn’t art. One problem here is that the media each “artist” uses is different. Saunders isn’t illegally drawing his art on something without permission on someone else’s property. The teenager would get arrested for marijuana use but Saunders wouldn’t. Nonetheless, his artwork was still creative and amazing, even though slightly ridiculous and partially illegal. Drugs have, without a doubt, affected the art world.
Many artists have used drugs to aid the creation of their works of art. Saunders definitely shocked people with the effect of his drug use. Even though he did this cool project, he sacrificed his health for his art. On his website, he says “within weeks I became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage that fortunately wasn’t irreparable.” This didn’t stop him though; he continuous to make self-portraits on drugs, just more spread out. Also on his website, he includes a frighteningly intense video about the drugs which I encourage you to check out. To see more images: http://bryanlewissaunders.org/drugs/ To watch the video: https://vimeo.com/19566969