It’s no secret that drugs have been a part of many people’s artistic practices for years—even Shakespeare might have been lighting up. The following are eight other artists whose work has been inspired by everything from marijuana to hallucinogens.
The American artist is best known for his work playing with advertising and mass-market iconography, a style he refers to as POPaganda. In recent years, English has engaged in a guerilla campaign to distribute and place brightly colored stickers and other pseudo marketing that play with weed marketing. For example, food boxes on supermarket shelves can be repackaged as Duncan High Brownies and Aunt Jamaica’s Hash Oil, which English says will help the people see a world in which weed and advertising merge. (Individuals in Los Angeles or other legal outposts, of course, don’t need to use much in the way of imagination.) The method seems to function counter to English’s distaste for advertising, implying that it would be positive for corporations to enter into the marketplace, but they still poke at an interesting space between legalization and the impending corporatization of cannabis.
Anthony Ausgang (who painted the main image above as well) is a Los Angeles-based artist working with the relationship between lowbrow art, like cartoons, and marketing, who designed the cover of MGMT's Congratulations. There’s plenty of outside material contextualizing his work including the lowest of brow, memes with Loony Tunes or Disney characters smoking. Ausgang’s work takes High Art into account, too. Van Gogh’s Weed features one of his feline characters stumbling around a Van Gogh landscape with a joint next to a sign that translates "Cannabis Farm." When he reached out to work in the burgeoning sector of cannabis advertising, Ausgang was rebuked and told his imagery would attract children to the products. It was a clear misunderstanding of the irony of using juvenile characters to represent something which was being taken rather seriously by the judicial systems, and cannabis company lawyers, around the world.
Bolivian artist Gastòn Ugalde’s work takes a more literal approach to dealing with drugs—his pieces are literally made of them. Well, sort of: He uses unprocessed coca leaves to make his collages. For Westerners, this might immediately read as “drugs” (something that Ugalde admittedly does intend in his work), but coca leaves are an important part of South America's indigenous culture, making their relationship to the illicit all the more fascinating and upsetting. He uses the Schedule II drug to create works that mix the satirical spirit of Andy Warhol with the aesthetics of thickness found in the work of Jasper Johns. His pastiches of the Coca-Cola logo poke at the drink’s complicated history with the substance as well as its entanglement in the eventual criminalization of coca and cocaine and the impact of these decisions on the people of South America.
This year, Iranian-born artist Taravat Talepasand released a series called Westoxicated, a reference to a pejorative term used in Iran to describe the “dangers” of drugged-up Westerners. The group of works included pieces like Banished Fortunes, depicting a realistically painted woman whose head is covered in blocked-out pot leaves and who sits next to a poppy, as well as Opium Tears I and II, which are simple monochromatic paintings featuring poppy buds and flowers. Most fascinating is her sculpture Blasphemy: Tagged, a veiled woman with her breasts out like Venus of Willendorf who sits upon a pedestal “tagged” with pot leaves, a smiley face with X-ed out eyes and a small inverted swastika. The glazed porcelain sculpture seems to poke fun at the fear that Western culture and drug use infiltrating post-Revolution Iran would compromise the modest character of Iranian women. The imagery appears again in a painted porcelain pipe which, when placed on its side, shows a woman being knocked over and her insides used to contain the drugs themselves. A number of the paintings in the series were made using hash oil, a clear rebellion from the imagery of the painting down to its actual contents.
Sculptor John de Fazio worked on a series of kitschy cast ceramic bongs, meant to ridicule both the compulsive consumption of cultural objects and institutions like MTV and the commodification and usage of icons like the Buddha. His work is always imbued with a dark sense of humor, transforming recognizable icons into more directly usable versions of themselves. By adding functionality—of whatever sort—to these venerated (and by some measures meaningless) icons, de Fazio plays with the idea of the stereotypical couch potato stoner literally filling oneself with ephemeral smoke to find meaning and amusement.
Camille Rose Garcia finds inspiration for her drippy, trippy paintings in her childhood experiences—acid trips at Disneyland included. She pulls in the darkest parts of Disney-like imagery to create works that are more reminiscent of the original fairy tales than the sanitized recreations of the 1900s. Her series Down the Rabbit Hole explores a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland that addresses the relationship that Lewis Carroll’s two books and the Disney movie have with drug culture. In one painting Alice, withered, terrified and clad in a bat bow, looks up at the sage-like Caterpillar, whose creeping eyelashes and globular features indeed mimic a bad acid trip. Every piece is imbued with a horrific fear that gets at the lesser-discussed aspects of drug use, countering a Disney-fied notion of Alice’s arguably horrifying experience.
Lighting designer Bentley Meeker displayed his “Bongoliers 1, 2 and 3” in 2015 at the National Arts Club. The installation used repurposed hand-blown bongs to create chandeliers, stripping them of their actual function while also imbuing them with another. Though his stated purpose was to play with combinations of light, the inaccessibility of the bongs as well as their general obfuscation also reflect the mass-prohibition of their intended use.
The paintings of Los Angeles-based Dunkees aren’t exactly subtle with their drug symbolism, often directly featuring the drugthey reference. Solo Artist, for instance, has both the classic hallucinogenic visuals of a mushroom trip while also displaying the shrooms themselves. His cartoon series, while occasionally very dark (a Winnie the Pooh reference, Dinner is Served, has Mickey Mouse, Pooh and Eeyore—all smoking—sitting around Piglet on a dinner plate), reimagines the sorts of television shows that stoners would watch in a more macabre sense. The fact that they’re available as dab mats and that they occasionally make their way into dispensaries mean that the artworks are all the more integrated into the actual process of getting high and changing the context they’d have hanging on a refined gallery wall.