Juxtapoz Psychedelic by Hannah Stouffer (Ed.)
Copyrighted in 2013 but released in spring 2014, ‘Juxtapoz Psychedelic’ is an art book edited by American artist and illustrator Hannah Stouffer. As revealed by its title, the book includes psychedelic art emanating from the eclectic universe of San Francisco based Juxtapoz Magazine, of which Stouffer is a long-time contributor. ‘Juxtapoz Psychedelic’ is filled with alluring and thought-provoking works of art, and should appeal to anyone interested in the genre. Seeing that many of the artists featured in the book draw inspiration from altered states induced by psychedelics, it is also a valuable documentation of how these substances are influencing certain layers of contemporary art.
Before looking into the content of the book, a few words should be said about Juxtapoz Magazine, which incidentally celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Launched in 1994, the magazine was founded by first wave psychedelic painter Robert Williams. Even though psychedelic art is an important part of the magazine’s profile, Juxtapoz is very much an amalgam of a wide range of artistic expressions and subcultural phenomena that, alongside psychedelia, include comics, graffiti, erotica, lowbrow, poster design and esoteric art.
The mix of underground art and subculture aesthetics has proved to be highly successful. So much in fact that Juxtapoz is currently the world’s best-selling art magazine. Needless to say its success is yet another proof of how embedded, for lack of a better word, psychedelic-looking imagery has become in popular culture. Considering that not long ago psychedelic art was a neglected genre, its recent upswing is certainly worthy of celebration. Still, it is also important to take a moment to consider what it means to put psychedelic art in a commercial context such as Juxtapoz, where trippy paintings and intoxicating illustrations share space with advertisements from major corporations. Is it possible to fully appreciate psychedelic art when it is placed next to ads for Levi’s?
Obviously, there are no ads in Juxtapoz Psychedelic. Instantly appealing, the somewhat slick yet kaleidoscopic cover design makes the title a perfect coffee table book for psychonauts of the 21st Century. Every artwork is generously displayed in full-page size or, in quite a few cases, a two-page spread. In total, 26 painters, illustrators and designers are featured. Although there is an emphasis on artists who are at the beginning of their careers – many are born in the 1980s – Juxtapoz Psychedelic also includes a handful of veterans, of which the oldest, pop art pioneer Keiichi Tanaami, is born in 1936. While most of the artists are American, the book also contains artists from Russia, Taiwan, Canada, Sweden, United Kingdom and Japan. When it comes to gender representation, 18 of the 26 artists in Juxtapoz Psychedelic are men and 8 are women.
In a style that is suggestive of mainstream pop journalism, each artist gets a one-page presentation made up of a short introductory blurb followed by three facts that they are asked to list. They also get to answer a survey containing a selection of single words. Examples include “Indulgences”, “Visions”, “Inspirations”, “Color” and “Psych”. As for the latter, most of the artists have interpreted the word as short for psychedelics. Interestingly, quite a few admit to having taken mind-expanding drugs of some kind or another. For instance, London based artist Roid says he experiments with mushrooms and DMT “from time to time” (Stouffer 94), and Ryan Travis Christian from Chicago confesses to having taken “lots of acid in 8th grade” (Stouffer 170). Equally straightforward is the answer of New York based mural painter Maya Hayuk: “Yes. 100%. Totally. In variation and moderation” (Stouffer 68).
It certainly appears that psychedelic artists of today are quite open about their personal psychedelic experiences. That said, since the question is omitted from some of the presentations one can assume there were artists who declined to talk about the subject.
Artworks influenced by psychedelic experiences induced by psychedelics have most likely existed for millennia. Yet it would take until the mid 1960s before western scholars and critics started to view psychedelic art as a distinct style of its own. Published in 1968, Psychedelic Art by Robert E.L. Masters and Jean Houston was the first book dedicated to the genre. Clearly, the authors hoped it would develop into an influential movement saying that, “Psychedelic art has a future and potentials that lie beyond anyone’s power to envision” (Masters & Houston 81). However, during the decades following the 1960s the genre remained an underground subculture, and it is only in recent years that it has been getting serious attention from curators, critics and the media.
In fact, for more than 40 years Masters and Houston’s Psychedelic Art was more or less the only comprehensive source about the genre that existed. Those wanting to learn more had to turn to monographs such as the best-selling Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (1990), or seek out the occasional article published in the media or on the internet.
This is no longer the case. As a result of the renewed interest in psychedelic art seen in the 21st Century, books on the genre finally started to appear. The first of these was the 2010 book Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art Since the 1960s edited by David S. Rubin, and the following year saw the release of Are You Experienced?: How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art by Ken Johnson. Also in 2011, Danish art historian Lars Bang Larsen presented his brilliant – but sadly not commercially available – PhD dissertation A History of Irritated Material: Psychedelic Concepts in Neo-Avant-Garde Art.
Seeing that several titles have appeared in recent years, one may ask if there is a need for yet another book on psychedelic art. But when it comes to Juxtapoz Psychedelic it differs from the titles listed above in that it primarily focuses on young, contemporary artists. This of course makes it a great place to start if one wants to discover fresh psychedelic art. However, there are a few downsides to the book. Sadly, the artworks presented in Juxtapoz Psychedelic do not contain any titles. Since titles can go a long way in explaining artworks, excluding them obviously makes it harder to understand what the artists are trying to communicate. Also lacking is an in-depth essay contextualising the artworks presented in the book, as well as discussing the genre as a whole. Many of the artworks featured in Juxtapoz Psychedelic presumably deal with very profound experiences, yet due to their incomplete presentation they risk losing some of their depth.
These shortcomings aside, the book is still a great addition to the other works on psychedelic art that have been released in the 2010s. Its excellent selection of artists combined with its lavish presentation makes Juxtapoz Psychedelic a real treat. If anything, the book is a veritable feast for the third eye.