90mg Abilify
10mg Loritab
1 sm Glass of "real" Absinthe
1 Glass of Pruno
Bath Salts
2mg Xanax
2 bottles of Cough Syrup
Ativan / Haloperidol (doseage unknown in hospital)
Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 caps onset)
Marijuana (Kine Bud)
Nitrous Oxide / Valium I.V. (doseage unknown in hospital)
20mg Valium
Salvia Divinorum (right before but mostly right after)
10mg Ambien
10mg Adderall
1/2 gram Cocaine
Huffing Lighter Fluid
Huffing Gas
Morphine IV (doseage unknown)
G13 Marijuana
1 "bump" of crystal meth


This Is Your Face On Drugs: An Artist Explores Creativity Under The Influence

Behind artist Bryan Lewis Saunders’ drug-fueled self-portraits.

It’s a topic that’s inspired endless debate—the link between art and creativity and brain-altering chemicals. Usually, the drugs are a lifestyle choice of "creative" types. In the case of artist Bryan Lewis Saunders, they were a key part of the process and end product.

Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 caps onset)

Saunders, a performance and visual artist, undertook a high profile experiment in creativity, starting several years ago whereby, according to the artist, he created a series of self-portraits, each one done under the influence of a different substance—pretty much an A to Z assortment, from prescription meds like Abilify and Xanax to crystal meth. Over the weeks he’d create amazing pieces, suffer mild brain damage and end up hospitalized—all for the sake of art and creation.

In many cases, when looking at the resulting images, one can quickly make the connection between the listed drug and the output—certain pieces look like our perceived reactions to certain drugs. I asked Saunders about this effect, and how people might not be totally convinced that the output was drug-induced.

"Self-portraiture is biased in its very nature," says Saunders. "The more informed the bias the more interesting the image is, usually. Memories, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, behaviors are all but impossible to separate from the making of a self-portrait. If I was to attempt to render the same exact image on each different substance in essence denying what the drug means to me personally, the only thing I would be expressing were the degrees in which my motor skills, or visual processes were effected thus entirely undermining the purpose of doing a self-portrait in the first place."

1/2 gram Cocaine

In other words, as Saunders points out, considering that there are preconceptions of cognitive impact of each drug, if they didn’t factor into the self-portrait then he would be denying his conscious and subconscious impulses. If he attempted to make each portrait the same, then the only thing affected each time would be his motor skills. Instead, he let the drugs drive his creative—including the preconceived behaviors and notions contained within.

While this was all done in the name of art, Saunders is quick to say that the drug use is nothing to be proud of. "To be honest I’m not proud to be on any drugs in any pictures. I think drugs make me look really ugly. And I’m really a six trick pony, but the world only likes one of my tricks. Each year 500,000 kids around the world discover drugs and so the virus never dies."

Saunders, who started creating a self-portrait a day in 1995, has done over 8,600 self-portraits (most of them drug-free). He plans on displaying the drug series at Paris’ La Maison Rouge next spring. In the meantime, see some of the portraits in the slide show above.

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  • DanTheFisherman

    similar experiments were done by Polish artist Witkacy in the first half of the 20th century - paintings also included list of substances he used while creating them. 

  • ourshopsale

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  • anonymous coward

    Bah...  it would have been far more interesting if he hadn't known what drug he was on...  (yes, in some cases that WOULD be impossible)  If you KNOW what you're on, you're susceptible at least in part to the placebo affect...  that is, your experience is based more on what you expect it to be like than anything the drug does to you.  It really makes what he's done here inconclusive...  he might as well have just imagined what it would be like.

  • dr_mabeuse

    I agree with Wowglida. Great art, but I think he was more influenced by expectation than he was by the drugs. At least, they're nothing like my experiences.

    He should have done them double-blind. And included a placebo portrait as control. ;-)

  • Wowglida

    Placebo effect. He is creating what people might expect to see. Conscious or subconscious.