Sunday, 1 November 2015

LSD Blotter Art

First synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938, the hallucinogen LSD emerged as a recreational drug in American cities in the early 1960s. Widely available until criminalized by the US government in the autumn of 1966, the drug – which typically left the laboratory in liquid form – was initially distributed in a number of ways, from large pills (nicknamed “barrels” for their shape) to acid-infused sugar cubes.

Alice goes through the looking glass

The development of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, in which penalties were linked to the weight of the confiscated substance, changed the way LSD was disseminated. An average active dose is in the range of .05 to .1 mg – since the laws considered the legal substance in which the drug was infused part of the total weight of the illegal substance, a single sugar cube might increase the overall weight by a factor of 100,000. New lightweight “carriers” that added less extraneous volume to the small doses of the drug they held were developed, ranging from colored gelatin chips to sheets of perforated paper known as blotter. First seen on the streets of San Francisco in the early 1970s, blotter acid soon began to be decorated with printed designs and images – ranging from smiley faces to Hindu Gods to cartoon characters – identifying it by dealer or potency, while at the same time vastly reducing the legal liability of those who possessed it.

Mad Hatter design by Mark McCloud

Mark McCloud, who, with the possible exception of the FBI, owns the world’s largest collection of (now LSD-free) blotter was recently acquitted by a jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute the drug. He is notorious in the annals of psychedelic art for his 25 year quest to compile a complete collection of LSD blotter art. US Federal authorities spent millions on conducting wire-taps, monitoring mail and surveillance of McCloud. During a SWAT style raid by an FBI/DEA task force, police seized 400 framed LSD blotters and 33,000 sheets of McCloud’s own blotter art. Designs ranged from a print of Peter Rabbit from the early 70′s to a recent example from Europe showing two lesbian aliens. None of the material had any traces of the drug. McCloud’s attorney argued that McCloud wasn’t resposible for the use of his prints by others as a vehicle for illegal drugs. Among McCloud’s defence witnesses was New York art critic Carlo McCormick, who told the court that McCloud’s work is an important part of an American folk-art tradition.

Blotter Designed and Signed by H.R. Geiger

Mark calls his collection the “institute of illegal art”. There are designs ranging from psychedelic fractals and religious imagery to portraits of counter-cultural icons such as Timothy Leary and the inventor of LSD himself – Albert Hoffman. And Albert Hoffman’s story…? Let’s leave that to another day. There are the famous ones: Felix the Cats, red and orange sunshines, Mad Hatters, Beavis and Buttheads, and McCloud’s most famous personal design: Alice Through the Looking Glass, a double-sided sheet with Alice climbing through the window into the psychedelic realm. His collection also contains rarer blotter art like the ones signed by Tim Leary and Albert Hoffman, ones with images of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and the inflammatory series with the FBI seal stamped on it. Some of these sheets even came with elaborate envelopes designed to match their contents.

Father of LSD: Albert Hoffman

Originally the paper used to distribute LSD was chromatic paper used for litmus tests in laboratories. The acid would turn the pink paper blue giving it the nickname – blue dot acid. That was the first commercial enterprise of LSD on paper. Then in the early 70s someone had the thought of not just putting dots on paper, but dipping whole sheets. The scientists calibrated the absorption rate of a sheet of paper and how much of a gram of acid could be absorbed by it. They surmised that blotter paper would be best because it had a high absorbency rate as it was used to absorb ink after signing a document. But acid could technically go on anything – some of the first commercial enterprises even put it on string. The anthropologist Claudio Naranjo took some LSD on paper to a shaman in Central America around 1965, the story goes that he drew some stars and a crescent moon on the paper – this was perhaps the first imagery on blotter paper.


What happened to Mark McCloud was a “death-rebirth” experience on LSD in 1971 which took him around ten years to integrate. He saw collecting blotter paper as a way of “paying back the debt”. He thinks that by keeping examples of acid sheets, they can be part of a history that children can see, so the radical change in the 1960s can be understood as a renaissance. He believes LSD to be a “renaissance pill” – a substance that has affected consciousness, and the arts in an incredible way. It can be seen as an alchemical artform, which, once consumed affects consciousness by taking the image into themselves. McCloud says he could have easily gone from parish to parish, collecting hosts from a Catholic mass, where blank sheets of bread are stamped with an image of what appears to be the Holy Ghost, a dove flying and on the other side the name of the parish – “but since they don’t work anymore, I thought I’d collect an active host – the one that is bringing mysticism back to the people.”



North Utsire

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