Works by Renowned Personalities : Psychiatrist Holds Art Exhibit to Encourage New Study of LSD
Minerva Herzog stood before an acrylic-on-canvas she made about 27 years ago, motioned her hand around its cloudy, multicolored brush strokes, and proclaimed she could not have made it without a little help--from LSD.
Herzog, now a 73-year-old Venice painter, says her experiments with the hallucinogenic drug in the late 1950s removed her inhibitions as an artist, allowing her to escape from rigid, representational forms into a free-form world of exploding colors.
“LSD made art more adventurous,” Herzog said, describing how she painted another untitled work by applying the tips of blue, black and yellow paint tubes directly to canvas, then smearing them around.
Herzog was visiting an exhibit at the home of Dr. Oscar Janiger, a Santa Monica psychiatrist and semi-retired University of California, Irvine, professor whose experiments with lysergic acid diethylamide between 1954 and 1962 involved hundreds of artists, writers, actors and musicians.
‘LSD and Creativity’
The tests, according to Janiger, included subjects such as conductor Andre Previn, actress Rita Moreno, actors Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson and James Coburn, and writer Aldous Huxley.
Called “The Enchanted Loom--LSD and Creativity,” the show at Janiger’s home, which will run over the next three weeks, includes the works of 60 artists. It is open to the public, by appointment.
Janiger, 68, said he is holding the show now in the hope of encouraging research into the mind-altering effects of LSD. Such tests are rare now because of government regulations and public antipathy toward the jarring “acid” rock-and-roll and mass revolts that highlighted the turbulent 1960s.
“We just scratched the surface of the effect of altered states on the creative process,” said Janiger, a wide-eyed man with a mane of white, wiry hair, who conducted tours of the exhibit Sunday afternoon, with about 20 visitors in each group.
The main part of the exhibit is a collection of drawings and paintings, all depicting a Hopi Indian kachina doll that Janiger had provided to the artists. They made representations of the doll before ingesting the drug, and then again during the hallucinogenic experience.
Generally, the result was that an artist’s well-defined lines in “before” pictures became blurry flashes in the “after” depictions. Janiger said this was because most artists attempted to show the essence of the object, in some cases trying to capture the spirit that the doll represents to the Hopi.
One artist, who before taking LSD drew an angular self-portrait in pencil, simply covered a page in yellow water color, and another in orange, after the drug took effect.
“He discovered that color is the cosmic adventure, not his face,” Janiger said.
Other subjects were asked to participate in different ways. For example, Previn composed at the piano. He also sat at a typewriter shortly after the experience to describe what had happened to him.
“I had a general sense of well-being and a tendency to laugh at nothing in particular,” the conductor wrote in an essay on display. “A single flower or a single leaf fascinated me endlessly. I could see details in them that were almost shocking in their clarity.”
Grant dictated his thoughts into a tape recorder, and parts of a transcript were on the wall. The actor, obviously taken by the powerful effects of the drug, found LSD to be a solution to some mind problems.
“I have come to the conclusion that the psyche cures itself,” Grant said. “Since the psyche has curative powers within itself, then, perhaps, that is why it discovered the very LSD with which to effect its own cure.”
Visitors to the show included invited artists, educators and friends of Janiger’s.
“Our culture is too inhibited,” one woman said. “I think the drugs let the artists be themselves.”
But Randy Polk, 34, a television actor who recently has appeared on “Knight Rider” and “Hill Street Blues,” said he did not understand how the subjects could create under the influence of the drug.
“I can see using the drugs as a reference point for later, but painting on drugs seems kind of prearranged and forced,” he said. “I can’t imagine what performing would be like under LSD, but I don’t think I’d like it.”
For further information, contact Janiger at (213) 459-6044.