In March 1995, artist Bryan Lewis Saunders made a promise to himself to create a new self-portrait every day for the rest of his life. To this day, he has kept this promise; Saunders has made nearly 12,400 of them.
While this alone 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 whilst being on mind-altering drugs, and so, "Under The Influence" was born.
Within weeks, 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" and 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; though now he only takes drugs that are prescribed to him by a doctor.
Now have a look at the cool art, but don't try this at home.
Psilocybin Mushrooms (2 Caps Onset)
"The drug series itself began in 2000 when I moved into an 11-story building with the idea that I would make a documentary on all of the interesting characters there," Saunders told Bored Panda in a statement. "The building is well-known in Johnson City for its creeps and loonies."
After moving in, however, a really difficult period in the artist's life postponed the series. One of his good friends died in a fire, another tried to shoot himself in the head but ended up with brain damage and permanent confusion, and while he was still in the hospital, Saunders's lung collapsed.
Ativan / Haloperidol (Doseage Unknown In Hospital)
To unwind, he went hiking with his buddy Brandon Bragg, something Saunders 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. (To this day, that book is my favorite of all of the self-portrait books.) ... 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."
When Saunders and Bragg got back to NY, the artist unknowingly became very dehydrated, started hallucinating, and had a psychotic break during which 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." It was a combination of dark sadness and easy access that led Saunders to satisfy his drive to experience as many different things as possible.
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 pretty big. "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."
For more on Saunders and his work, check out his book.