Bryan Lewis Saunders: Artist Paints Self-Portraits Under The Influence
We often hear how, for some people, being under the influence unlocks their hidden artistic souls. It might be true for some, and it might be an urban myth. We won’t know for sure, and each person can have different results. There is one example out there that might get us closer to understanding this phenomenon—self-portraits on drugs by Bryan Lewis Saunders.
Mostly known for his art on drugs, Bryan also expresses his artistic soul with performance art and poetry, videography, and stand-up tragedy. And it’s not your usual inspirational poems about life. He set out on his self-portrait a day journey in 1995, and since then, he hasn’t missed a single day. His most viral work of self-portraits under the influence is also part of this long-time commitment.
Bryan Lewis Saunders’ art is obviously on a more niche side; the painted self-portraits on drugs put him on the map, as no one has ever attempted something like this. For those who love that kind of art, these creative illustrations can act as a getaway drug into the world of Saunders. He is undoubtedly one of the most notable modern artists with a vast portfolio of different, thought-provoking art forms.
So dig into this list and explore the perception of the world by a brain under the influence. Share these portraits with your friends, and while you’re welcome to appreciate the art, we urge you not to attempt to recreate something similar. Stay safe and healthy!
Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 Caps Onset)
Ativan / Haloperidol (Doseage Unknown In Hospital)
What Motivates Bryan Lewis Saunders to Draw Self-Portraits Under the Influence?
After a hiking trip with his friend and a harsh experience living in a drug-infested building, Bryan had a psychotic break due to dehydration, which led him to experiment with drawing self-portraits on drugs despite never trying them before.
His experiment was just as successful as other mediums in addressing the mission of his art—tragedy. Saunders often addresses how he seeks to unearth emotions from his audience. Unlike many other famous paintings, he aims his art to make men cry publicly and make everyone feel the feelings of life many people know but choose to ignore for their own sanity.
Of course, the artist runs into those people who get “inspired” by his sometimes scary paintings, but not in the way he intended. He still tries to reach them, though, even if it’s too late for them.
The Birth of "Under The Influence"
In March 1995, artist Bryan promised himself to create a new self-portrait every day for the rest of his life. He has kept this promise; Saunders has made nearly 12,400 of them. Of course, nothing could rival the most famous portraits, but the concept alone sets the artist apart from everyone else.
While this sounds like quite the experiment, in 2000, he set out to create an even more radical subseries within the project. The artist painted tens of self-portraits while on mind-altering drugs, so "Under The Influence" was born.
What Are the Most Famous Books by Bryan Lewis Saunders?
Artist’s written media are not what they seem. The books contain writings and illustrations that scratch your itch regarding non-mainstream art. Bryan Lewis Saunder’s bibliography includes:
- 87 Dreams of a Sociopath
- The Reasons Why I Dream with Knives
- Channel Zero
- We Don’t Need Another Doctor, We Can Run Our Own Tests
- The Confessor
Saunders released 11 books, each exploring a different topic, but all holding the one and only style of Bryan.
1/2 Gram Cocaine
Bryan Lewis Saunders and the Effects of the Experiment
Within weeks of undergoing this experiment, he became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage. Saunders even became a frequent guest at the hospital. Nevertheless, he continued drawing. The artist sought "experiences that might profoundly affect his perception of self," when you see just how different each of the drawings from "Under The Influence" is, you can't help but think he succeeded.
Saunders said the brain damage resulted in "psychomotor retardation and confusion," but at least it was repairable. He's still conducting this experiment, but over greater lapses of time, and with drugs prescribed by a doctor.
What Other Types of Media Has Bryan Lewis Saunders Published?
The artist partakes in a lot of different forms of art. Videography, audio works that include tape recordings of his sleep and even dreams. Bryan has adopted popular art mediums and adapted them into his own. Some of his latest audio and video works include:
- Stream of Unconscious Vol. 7 with Joke Lanz and Dylan Nyoukis (Stand-Up Tragedy Records, 2013)
- Bryan Lewis Saunders & James Hollenbaugh (Videography, 2012)
- The Confessor (Stand-Up Tragedy Records, 2013)
- Near Death Experience (Erratum audio works, 2010)
Most of Bryan Lewis Saunder's works are praised by those familiar with his message but hated by others. That's the life of an artist; the fear of being misunderstood often comes true in their lives. His self-portraits on drugs took the concept a step further, and those paintings reached the general population.
1 Shot Of Dilaudid / 3 Shots Of Morphine (In The ER With Kidney Stones)
Khat (Chew And Tea)
The Hike of Transformation: Nature, Art, and the Connecting Troubling Reality
To unwind, Saunders went hiking with his buddy Brandon Bragg, something he hadn't done before. "It was incredible," he said. "I had 5 pounds of art supplies with me! Every day, I saw tons of beautiful things in nature. I'm from the city and so every new kind of bark I saw, or toadstool, or wild animal gave me such a rich wealth of phenomena to draw and see myself in a totally different world. That experience was truly miraculous and healing.
“While Brandon and I were hiking one day, he asked me, 'Whatever happened with that documentary you were going to make with the veterans and the loonies?' And I told him how everything had happened so fast with the tragedies and how I thought the people would be really interesting to document, but in fact they were all on drugs, suffering in solitude, some too obese to physically leave their apartment, and for many, it was all they could do to get out of their recliners 3 times a day.”
“I told him how when I first moved in, a paraplegic in a wheelchair showed me an encyclopedia of pills and said he could find at least one of every kind of pill in that book in the building and that book was huge."
Celexa (Dosage Unknown)
The Unraveling Journey: Art, Hallucinations, and a Radical Project
When Saunders and Bragg returned to NY, the artist unknowingly became dehydrated, hallucinating, and had a psychotic break. He ditched his friend at a monastery because he thought he was trying to poison him.
"I took the Greyhound straight back to Tennessee, where I had an epiphany. I thought, not only am I going to draw myself every day, but I'm also going to do a different drug every day. After all, there was one of everything in the building... And that was when I officially started the project."
A combination of dark sadness and easy access led Saunders to satisfy his drive to experience as many different things as possible.
From Viral Controversy to Empathetic Connection: the Impact of Saunders' Experiment
He said the images first went viral in January 2011, and it was "excruciatingly distressing and morbidly terrifying." Saunders got quite a few hate mails. "They either wanted me to commit suicide myself, or they themselves wanted the honor of putting me down like an animal. Sleazy companies came out of the woodwork too," he recalled. "This time around it's been so much nicer and friendlier."
But the popularity of this one experiment is enormous. "It gives people an opportunity to discover some of the other things I do or have done as well. Things that I feel are a lot more important, both socially and artistically. And it's also opened the door to communicate with some other incredible people who feel that they are alone in the world, and in one way or another are suffering and having trouble. I'm older and like to think I can be of some help in that department."