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Art and Psychedelics

Psychedelic Art

by
David Jay Brown

Every creative person who has ever taken a psychedelic substance yearns
to express the experience. Among other things, psychedelics have a most
extraordinary effect on the imagination and the optical cortex of the
brain. Visual art that is reminiscent of the kinds of hallucinatory
visions– intricate, brightly colored, unusual, complex, imbued with
meaning, and often geometrically organized– that one sees with closed
eyes during this hyperdimensional brain state has been dubbed “psychedelic
art”.

Psychedelic art is not always inspired by a drug-induced experience,
but often it is. Although sometimes referred to as visionary or surreal
art– in that, like dreams, they all draw upon the unconscious as their
source of inspiration– the truly psychedelic painting is charged with an
unmistakable psychoactive intensity. Sex and death are common co-mingling
themes. Psychedelic art is, of course, best viewed and most appreciated
while one is under the influence of a psychedelic.

Artists, for the most part, seem to take naturally to the psychedelic
experience, and LSD has been shown with scientific validation to increase
the creativity of artists. (This doesn’t mean that taking LSD will make
you creative. It means that if one already has a creative talent, then LSD
has the potential to amplify this.) When psychiatric researcher Oscar
Janiger did his famous LSD and creativity studies in the early sixties, he
found that the group which had the most positive experiences with the
substance were the artists. (Which group had the greatest number of
bummers? The psychiatrists.) Psychedelic art is certainly nothing new.
It’s been around for as long as human beings. This article is by no means
meant to be an overview of this vast subject– that has been done in
detail elsewhere– but rather, this is a compilation of short profiles on
some of the major psychedelic artists on the scene today.

H.R. Giger

H.R. Giger– creator of the Necronomican collection– lives in Chur,
Switzerland. He is perhaps best known for the creature and sets he
designed (and won an academy award for) in the original film Alien, but
his paintings, which have appeared popularly as posters and on record
album covers, are actually even more extraordinary. Giger is the master of
capturing the bad trip. If one were able to freeze a moment from Poe or
Lovecraft’s worst nightmare, we would probably have an image that very
much resembled one of Giger’s pieces. Macabre metalic biomechanical
creatures erotically slither through his dark decaying landscapes, locked
in a gruesome orgy of repulsive torment, while dirty grey cyborgs grind
together over carpets of screaming mutilated baby heads. He says that he
has always been fascinated by the combination of “elegance and horror.”
His work provides us with a tour through the interior chambers of hell,
the darkest regions of our souls, and it is certainly not for the
squeamish. But to some, it can be so horrific that it becomes extremely
beautiful. His work can be obtained through: Leslie Barany Communications,
121 West 27th St., Suite 202, New York, New York 10001, (212) 627-8488, or
through: Morpheus International, 200 N. Robertson Blvd. #312, Beverly
Hills, California 90211, (310) 859-2557.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams lives in North Hollywood, California. He became well
known for the contributions that he made to Zap and other underground
comics during the late sixties, and his collection entitled Zombie Mystery
Paintings has become a cult classic. Although Williams is a architect of
grotesque and disturbing nightmare visions, and a deliberately sleazy,
low-life flavor permeates his work, there is cartoony cuteness about it,
and a good deal of hallucinogenic humor giggles through. So intricately
detailed is Williams’ work that one often can not grasp what they are
looking at upon first glance. One usually has to stare at it for awhile
before the complex imagery begins to emerge– then it’s almost hard to
believe what one is seeing. When asked how psychedelics influenced his
work, he replied, “Tremendously… they opened up the world of color and
shape, and put an emphasis on things that were really not paid attention
to before.” Recently his work has received a great deal of recognition,
including a showing at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Posters, prints, and books by Robert can be ordered through: L, Imagerie,
15030 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, California 91403, (818) 995-8488. (Full
color catalog available for $4.)

Alex Grey

Alex Grey– well-known as a performance artist– lives in Brooklyn, New
York. If Henry Gray– the physician who put together Gray’s Anatomy– had
ever done a hit of acid we may have seen something emerge from him that is
very similar to the work that Alex Grey has done. Alex Grey’s collection
of paintings entitled Sacred Mirrors was inspired by a psychedelic vision
that he shared with his wife, which he describes in the preface to the
collection as an experience of the “Universal Mind Lattice.” Many of his
paintings show people with transparent skin so that one can see the inner
workings of their circulatory, skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems.
Radiating out from his precisely detailed, anatomically exposed figures
are auric waves of metaphysical energies, making many invisible dimensions
visible. At times heavenly and other times horrific, Alex Grey paints
people the way that they often appear to someone at the peak of an acid
trip. For information on how to purchase his work contact Inner Traditions
at (800) 488-2665 or Pomegranate at (800) 227-1428.

Mati Klarwein

Mati Klarwein– creator of the infamous Milk and Honey collection–
lives in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Andy Warhol said that Mati was his “favorite painter.” Mati has called
himself “the most famous unknown painter in the world”, because most
everyone has seen the widely reproduced, visionary piece that he did on
the cover of Santana’s album Abraxas or his painting “A Grain of Sand” (in
this issue), yet very few people know who painted them. Influenced by his
mentor Ernst Fuchs, Mati’s work is brightly colored, often full of dense
intricate imagery shamanically juxtaposed together. There is a rapturous
blissful quality to his paintings. Timothy Leary told him that he didn’t
need psychedelics. “I painted psychedelically before I took psychedelics,”
Mati says, “It’s like what Dali said, I don’t take drugs, I am drugs.” His
Collected Works 1959-1975 is available from the Raymond Martin Press in
Markt Erlbach, Germany. Mati can be reached in Spain by calling: (34)
71-639-281.

Tadanori Yokoo

Tadanori Yokoo lives in Tokyo, Japan, and is well recognized as one of
the leaders in the pop art movement that began in the sixties. Although he
is a very highly accomplished and talented painter, his most amazing
psychedelic work is accomplished with the collages that he does, wherein
are assembled many images from popular culture interfaced with angels,
buddhas, and other religious images from both Eastern and Western
traditions. He creates a unique celestial paradise, beautifully blending
together global icons in order to invoke a transcendental realm that
expresses the escalation of the human spirit. One of his best collections
is simply entitled 100 Posters of Tadanori Yokoo, and his collaboration
with body builder and artist Lisa Lyon-Lilly produced some wonderful
psychedelic results in both painting and video. His work can be obtained
through: Tadanori Yokoo Atelier, 4-19-7 Seijo Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157
Japan. Phone: 81-3-3482-2826.

Barbara Mendes

Barbara Mendes– creator of the “Psychedelic Legacy” series– lives in
downtown Los Angeles. Barbara covers her canvases with a richly detailed
tapestry of joyous colorful celebrative images, where multi-cultural
archetypes dance through an ecological blend of urban and natural
settings, and intertwining plant-like structures form symbiotic unions
with beautiful creatures that are delightfully dripping with erotic
sensuality. The resonance with African and Hindu rhythms is present, as is
the influence of underground comics. Her work has a happy feeling about
it, and it simply makes one feel good. Barbara doesn’t like being labled a
sixties artist. “This is not just a sixties thing, it’s a human thing,”
she says. “To me minimal art is a joke, because life isn’t minimal, today
it’s maximal!” “My art,” Barbara says, “visualizes and symbolizes the vast
universe within each human brain.” For information on where to view
Barbara’s work, or for an appointment at her private gallery call (213)
488-3508 during business hours.

Brummbaer

Brummbaer lives in Venice, California. Famous for the magazine Germania
that he published in Germany years ago and the light shows he orchestrated
in the late sixties for such luminaries as Frank Zappa and Tangerine
Dream, Brummbaer found his most expressive medium when he discovered the
computer. Brummbaer stylishly blends the mathematical precision achievable
on a computer with sensuous human sexuality, and fabricates fantastic
polymorphic, cyberdelic universes. His annimated alien worlds are composed
of Escheresquely organized, interlocking tubeular networks, and spinning
hyperdimensional objects encoded with cryptic esoteric messages. Brummbaer
says that his philosophy of creativity stems from his notion that an
artist is but a humble window washer. His computer screen is simply a
window, he says, that allows us to see through into other worlds, and all
he does is polish the screen so that we can see through them to the other
side. Brummbaer can be contacted through: Saturday Afternoon in the
Universe, 520 Washington Blvd. Suite # 114, Marina del Rey, CA 90292.

Carolyn Kleefeld

Carolyn Kleefeld lives in Big Sur, California. Author of five books,
she is presently completing her sixth– The Eye Change: Architecture of
the Sixth Dimension– and is well-known as an award-winning poet. Her
books are being used nationwide at universities and human potential
centers, and they have received the rare honor of being translated into
Braille. Carolyn painted the Songs of Ecstasy collection, a visionary
series that was also published as a book of the same title. Her paintings
are presently being shown in galleries across the country, and they have
appeared in and on several books. She paints the ecstatic vision, and
there is a profoundly joyous quality to her abstract expressionistic work.
Her pieces seem like postcards from heaven. She paints a higher
dimensional world that blends the organic with the astral, alchemically
weaving together a magical paradisical landscape that is inhabited by
strangely familiar mythic archetypes, unusual biological forms, mysterious
giggling nature spirits, and radiant explosions of erotic energy. “The
wilderness of the unconscious is lush with the gems of infinity,” she said
when speaking of her inspiration. By combining several media– including
iridescent acrylics and metal leaf– a delightful and enigmatic
characteristic arises; the paintings continuously change and transform
when viewed from different angles and under different lights. To find out
more about Carolyn Kleefeld’s artwork and publications contact: Atoms
Mirror Atoms, P.O. Box 221693, Carmel, California 93922. (408) 626-2924.

There are many other brilliant artists worthy of discussion, but
unfortunately our space here is limited. Japanese computer graphic artist
Yoichiro Kawaguchi– creator of Growth Metamorphosis– designs uncanny
animations that combine fractals with organic forms, resembling DMT
visions of extraterrestrial marine life. Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian
shaman, paints remarkable ayahuasca visions in Amazon jungle settings.
Jorge Sicre, a Southern California painter, does marvelous surreal
dreamscapes that are reminiscent of some of Max Ernst’s late work. Suzanne
Williams, wife of Robert Williams, does a form of abstract painting that
very closely resembles the brightly contrasting, symmetrical mandalas
present in many closed-eye acid visions. More than any other single
effect, the psychedelics amplify the imagination, and good psychedelic art
reflects this. To find out about more hallucinogenic artists there is a
gallery in New York City called The Psychedelic Solution that carries a
large selection of psychedelic artwork (including a large collection of
blotter designs). They can be contacted at: 33w 8th St. 2nd Fl., New York,
New York 10011. (212) 529-2462 ($4 for catalog.)