This Guy Takes Mind-Altering Substances Then Creates Freaky Self-Portraits

Whether we’re artists or not, it’s safe to say that the majority of us have created self-portraits. Indeed, it seems that the human race is compelled to represent itself in as many ways as possible – from the simple phone selfie to the most immaculate of oil paintings. But what if someone produced a self-portrait that showed us exactly what he was feeling? And what if the thing he was feeling were a mind-bending drug?

mushrooms
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Psilocybin Mushrooms

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Bryan Lewis Saunders lives in Tennessee and has, over the course of 20 years, created around 9,000 self-portraits – or at least one a day.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Lithium

In 2011 Saunders told Vice that he began making these illustrations because he “just wanted to see something different in [himself] every day.”

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morphine
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Morphine

Saunders spoke to The Guardian in 2012 and expanded on the reasoning behind his initial concept. “Every day is different,” he said. “Like snowflakes and DNA and fingerprints, no two are the same.”

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It was around the time of these interviews that one particular set of Saunders’ self-portraits caught the eyes of many. These images were part of a project appropriately titled “Under The Influence,” and each one was produced after Saunders had taken a different drug.

Each drug that Saunders used became the title of a new illustration, and a shockingly wide variety of substances are showcased, including prescription medicines and marijuana plus other psychoactive substances and harder drugs.

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bath_salts
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Bath Salts

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In a way, the idea of these illustrations is almost the reverse of the concept of the self-portrait; Saunders represents himself as the blank canvas for the “face” of these experiences.

The hallucinogenic drugs such as mushrooms, DMT and LSD produced expectedly trippy results. And even if the viewer has never taken these particular drugs, they can immediately understand something about the experience through Saunders’ portraits.

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lighterfluid
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Lighter Fluid

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The cyclobenzaprine – a muscle relaxant – self-portrait has a colorful, smushy warmth to it, while the artist’s marijuana image oddly features a photo of his childhood self.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Marijuana

Saunders told The Guardian that the youthful snap was included because he was “thinking back to when [he] was a child.”

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Saunders also explained that his crystal meth self-portrait was “probably the seventh or eighth on the same piece of paper, because [he] kept doing it over and over again.”

SodiumThiopental
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Sodium Thiopental

The self-portrait created under the influence of lighter fluid, meanwhile, was drawn with “metallic crayons to give it that lighter fluid feeling.”

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Certainly, Saunders will go with whatever feels right to create the appropriate mood for a particular self-portrait. One of his previous images, for instance, was drawn using a felt-tip pen lodged in his behind.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Adderall

There are also a couple of astonishingly honest images of Saunders in hospital that were drawn after him taking Valium. One of them even features Saunders’ hospital tag.

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12gm_cocaine
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Cocaine

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These pictures should perhaps serve as a warning to anyone thinking about replicating Saunders’ experiences. After all, on his website he confessed to having received “mild brain damage.”

bump_crystalmeth
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Crystal Meth

The hospital pictures also reveal where Saunders scored some of his drugs. When not in hospital, on the other hand, Saunders was given drugs by neighbors or psychiatric professionals.

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This brings to mind the following question: is Saunders crazy for doing this? He’s certainly had his share of struggles. Between the ages of ten and 21, for example, he “kept getting in trouble” with the police and even went to prison for eight months.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Cough Syrup

In fact, Saunders was asked outright by The Guardian whether he considered himself psychotic, to which the artist replied simply, “I don’t think I am.”

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percocet
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Percocet

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After prison, Saunders attended university and found art. And as he told The Guardian, “Art has saved my life, it’s like the best therapy in the world.”

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Ritilin

He continued to work on his art even as he took a variety of jobs, such as being an electrician, a caretaker and a ditch digger. Yet he has never made any money with it.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Seroquel

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In fact, it seems that making money is the last thing Saunders wants to do. For despite the global recognition that these images have received, he is not selling them.

If he ever did put them up for sale, however, he could surely ask for a hefty sum. The works were, after all, displayed together with Damien Hirst’s at La Maison Rouge in France.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Cyclobenzaprine

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Hopefully these images did – and will continue to – attract people to look beyond the drug self-portraits and view Saunders’ other art.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Butane Honey Oil

The artist’s output includes a range of images depicting himself while in love and hiking in the mountains, and he once even attempted to “hear” through a copper funnel in his mouth.

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alcohol_2
Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Alcohol

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The initial set of 50 or so drug pictures was created in 2001, yet according to Saunders’ website, he is not done with the project yet.

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Image: Bryan Lewis Saunders
Dilaudid

He did, though, state blankly to The Guardian that he has a great dislike for the drugs and does them “just for the drawing.”

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