View attachment 27908 Cocaine. Cough syrup. Crystal meth. You name it, Bryan Saunders has probably swallowed or snorted it. Since March 30, 1995, Saunders has drawn at least one self-portrait each and every day. He now has more than 8600 of them and plans to continue drawing one every day for the rest of his life.
But the 43-year-old Tennessee-based artist takes an approach to his practice that is unconventional to say the least. He often creates these self-portraits under the influence of various drugs. All in the name of art.
"At the time I was emotionally troubled and using art as therapy," he explains. "Drugs and drawing them, in hindsight, were a way to 'productively' escape."
The series, appropriately titled DRUGS, began in 2001 with a stint in which Saunders tried 18 different drugs in 11 days. "Artistically it was wonderful and exciting to see myself in new ways," he says. "Physically, I suffered quite a bit and some damage to both my mind and body."
The drugs in question range from illicit narcotics such as cocaine and crystal meth, to prescription pills including Klonopin and Xanax. "My psychiatrist prescribed the anti-psychotics and heavy tranquillisers, and other people gave me cough syrup and lighter fluid," he says.
Did he really take all of these drugs, or was it just a gimmick to sell art? "Of course, I've really taken all of them," he insists. "I took anything that was offered to me."
But that's not to say he is trying to gloss over the complex issue of drugs and drug abuse. Saunders, who was born in Washington, says that most drugs are very unattractive and can often have the opposite effect of what they are supposed to do.
Meanwhile, the Australian Drug Foundation warned that the effects of drugs, both prescribed and unprescribed, can be unpredictable and dangerous.
"When people take illicit drugs they are, in effect, experimenting on themselves," says chief executive John Rogerson. "We need to remember that drugs do not solve problems, there are more effective ways of dealing with life's challenges."
So, more than 10 years after the original experiment that produced DRUGS, has he given up for good? Not quite, says Saunders. "If something exotic is given to me, that I've never done before, I'll probably try to draw it."
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