Sure, he painted 60 self-portraits whilst on 60 different mind-altering drugs, but for 21 years, Tennessee-based artist Bryan Lewis Saunders also hasn't missed a single day sketching himself. "I see my life and art in this symbiotic relationship, endlessly improving and advancing one another. There are no limits," Saunders tells The Creators Project. But the aforementioned Under the Influence drug works were just one of his many radical projects. He’s painted himself whilst blindfolded, when he’s been in love, having anxiety attacks, and being tortured. He’s even been silent for a month for the sake of his art. The Creators Project spoke to Saunders about how his work has changed him, why he challenges himself, and if there’s any part of his work—and himself—that he won’t show.
The Creators Project: You really push yourself out of your comfort zone Bryan. Why?
Bryan Lewis Saunders: For me comfort zones seem to facilitate skill but hinder my creativity. The farther we go away from our comfort zones the more things are changing, unfamiliar and strange; becoming hypersensitive to everything. Long periods of prolonged sensitivity seem to be responsible for a lot of my creativity.
Do you have a daily routine for drawing?
Unless I'm doing an experiment, there isn’t a routine. The most constant and persistent objective has been to stay open and receptive to experience and to that part of myself that actually experiences life, as opposed to the part of me which remembers and uses experiences to create memories and stories.
Your work is so personal. Is there any aspect of your work that you're less comfortable with showing?
I try not to censor myself at all but there are some things that I wouldn't want to share online. For example, Sensations was a collaborative work with Nicole Bailey where we used drawing as a means to express and compare our physical feelings with each other while engaging in a wide variety of intimate activities. We've only shown them in gallery settings.
Which project was the hardest?
The Third Ear Experiment and While Being Tortured were the most physically demanding because they both involved pain and lasted a long time. The Psych Tests have been the most challenging mentally because they’re specifically designed to bring your problems to the surface in order to address them. But bringing up all of these painful memories and disturbed fantasies and trauma and then keeping them exposed long enough to deal with them artistically can be debilitating.
How do you think you'd feel if you stopped making self-portraits?
I’d lose the ability to access and evaluate my hidden subconscious feelings. My creative process has allowed me to develop an external means of being internally acutely self-aware. It’s like having a new sensory organ; an added level of perception.
What's next for you?
Sleep and dreaming experiments. A June concert in Paris. And a new album with Andrew Kirchner on his Mistake by the Lake (MBTL) record label. Drawing is the original basic human primal instinct; producing new associations and forms of thought that lead to the use of other powerful tools to express ourselves. Never stop drawing.
To view The Art of Darkness, a documentary about Saunders' work, click here.
Visit Bryan Lewis Saunders' website to view more of his projects.