Bryan Lewis Saunders' 15+ years of drug-induced self-portraits

brian-lewis-saunders.jpg Images: Bryan Lewis Saunders self-portraits on crystal meth (left) and huffed gasoline (right).

Cord Jefferson at Good posted a cool piece on artist Bryan Lewis Saunders. Since 1995, Bryan has created about 8,000 self-portraits, one each day, some of them while under the influence of various chemicals. He believes this has caused brain damage, so he says he now does that series while under medical supervision. Bryan does a lot of other work that mixes creativity with self-experimentation, so check out his site! (Thanks, Calpernia!)

Slideshow: This Is Your Artistic Brain on Drugs

Bryan Lewis Saunders: Self-Portraits



  1. I hate to be an art snob, but I am having a bit of difficulty seeing past the naive drawing style to gather much insight into how being on these drugs must radically change perception.

    I can’t help but wonder why after spending 15+ years and painting a staggering 8000 portraits, he didn’t seem to improve his drawing abilities more noticeably.

    I remember being more impressed by one artist (Andrew Jones) who painted 1000 self portraits between May 2002 and Feb 2005. He started out at a more advanced drawing level than Bryan, but improved quite substantially and explored a huge variety of styles.

    I love the concept of self-exploration through art and appreciate artists who are willing to reveal a window into their personal experience, but I wonder if this body of work is really worth the risk of permanent brain damage. I don’t feel like I know much more about either the drugs or the artist from viewing this work.

  2. I think a lot of those are great. I am not interested in perfect likenesses, but interesting, surreal interpretations, so this is perfect for me.

    In 1994 Zwigoff’s documentary “Crumb” was released, with the scene detailing how R. Crumb’s use of LSD changed his drawing style radically and permanently– I can’t help but think Saunders beginning his series in 1995 was influenced by that scene.

  3. I hit myself in the head with a hammer while looking at his site just so I could be part of the magic.

    Result: his site looks blurry.

  4. Interesting work, some of these are really cool. I like his style, … doesn’t seem naive at all, seems well developed and personal.

  5. Some of those are really freaky! I love it. It’s odd, but most of the time, the easiest thing to draw is myself. And, I look different every time- even without tripping on mescaline (not that I’m opposed to trying it, heh…).

  6. Even among the relatively small set of images presented here, Bryan hasn’t confined himself to any particular drawing style, a fortiori he hasn’t confined himself to a naive particular one. Some of the drawings have a pretty high level of technical sophistication, as a matter of fact.

    To posit that Andrew Jones “started out at a more advanced drawing level than Bryan” and that “[Bryan] didn’t seem to improve his drawing abilities more noticeably” (respective to the number of years elapsed and, the reader would infer, to Jones’ own improvement) is an interesting critique, with the burden of evidence falling, of course, upon the gentle critic.

  7. Why is it that we only ever see the results of these experiments conducted by people who are already talented artists? I’d like to see a complete hack this; they would most likely remain untalented, but it would be interesting to see if they achieved any temporary enlightenment or creativity.

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