Artists know that cannabis can enhance the creative process. But what about the experience of engaging works of art? At the Nicodim Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, a new exhibition aims to explore how cannabis influences both ends of the artistic process. Running from September 8 through October 20, Nicodim will host an exhibition by legendary psychedelic painter Robert Yarber. And on Saturday, October 15, Robert Yarber will be at the gallery, offering 100 special guests cannabis he curated to reflect his art and his creative process. The art exhibition pairs weed strains with paintings, not just to enhance the viewing experience, but to provide insights into the artworks themselves.
INFLUENCES Series Explores Relationships Between Art and Psychoactive Substances
L.A.’s Nicodim Gallery is kicking off a new series of gallery events and exhibitions it aptly calls INFLUENCES. The series explores the complex relationships between artistic creation and psychoactive substances. And its first installment is an event centered around the work of painter Robert Yarber.
Yarber catapulted to international acclaim in 1984 after his work was selected for the New Museum’s landmark Paradise Lost/Paradise Regained: American Visions of the New Decade. Now a distinguished Professor of Art at Penn State, Yarber’s work has been featured in countless galleries across the U.S.
If you don’t know Yarber’s work, you owe it to yourself to check it out. His paintings are richly evocative and surreal, disorienting and thrilling. His subjects are almost balletic, simultaneously levitating and falling, suspended between ecstasy and exhaustion. Yarber’s treatment of light and shading, what painters call chiaroscuro, uses hallucinatory neon and fluorescent colors framed by bottomless blacks.
If that sounds like an acid trip or an endless night on ecstasy, you aren’t alone. Director Terry Gilliam credited Yarber for influencing the wild, hallucinatory aesthetic of his 1998 film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And Nicodim describes Yarber’s work as “the most meaningful conversation you’ve had while blackout drunk, the best sex you’ve almost had, and every unforgettable moment that you can’t quite remember.”
In a word, Yarber’s paintings couldn’t be more perfect for a gallery series exploring the influence of drugs on art. But no other gallery has gone so far as to invite the artist to curate a selection of cannabis strains for viewers of each particular work. But that’s exactly what’s in store for the first 100 guests who RSVP to INFLUENCES’ debut event on Saturday.
Robert Yarber Curates Cannabis Strains for His “Return of the Repressed”
Robert Yarber’s Nicodim Gallery exhibition “Return of the Repressed” alludes to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic insight that what the mind tries to bury in the unconscious always finds a way out. The title suggests both a movement inward, toward introspection, and an ecstatic explosion outward, into consciousness and into the world. In short, it’s a cerebral, heady reference that resonates well with Yarber’s style and the stimulating effects of cannabis on the intellect.
Yet “Return of the Repressed” also suggests something primal. An eruption of untamed, excessive pleasure. A manifestation of the uninhibited id and the annihilation of our ego. Attendees of Nicodim’s INFLUENCES may not trip that hard. But their engagement with Yarber’s paintings will definitely be chemically enhanced.
Yarber has partnered with two iconic Los Angeles cannabis brands, MedMen and HoneyVape, to hand-select cannabis strains paired with specific works. But the strains Yarber selects won’t just produce effects the artist thinks will fit the particular work. Yarber says the strains and their signature palette and effects will reflect his own mental state during the creative process of painting each work.
Art Exhibition Pairs Strains With Paintings, But Which?
In typical gallery fashion, Nicodim isn’t revealing the specific MedMen and HoneyVape strains Yarber has selected until the event’s opening. But the tube-TV glow and sodium light buzz of Yarber’s Layover (1987) might go well with a calming indica. The creative impetus behind the oneiric, deferred sexuality of Wake Up Call (1992) might best be experienced with a numbing, couch-locking heavy hitter. Or a bright, euphoric sativa-dominant hybrid could reveal the artist’s drive to represent the intimacy and exuberance of Regard and Abandon (1985).
But those are just some guesses. Whichever strains Yarber chooses, it’s very cool to think about putting yourself in the artist’s frame of mind as a viewer of their work. It’s a level of identification that’s often hard to come by in galleries and museums, where artist statements and CVs may tell you about the works, but not take you inside the act of creating them. Cannabis has always had a place in the studio. But events like INFLUENCES give weed a place in the gallery.