What is trippy art and is it relevant for the world of art? Many would automatically connect it to psychedelic art, but is that really a case? Aldous Huxley once said “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme”, and Humphry Osmond added, “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” Influenced by the LSD culture of the hippy era, trippy art has always drawn the attention of a specific crowd of curious people who want to know what hides behind the vibrant colors and odd shapes. The unique vibe and the mysterious origins of trippy art inspired numerous debates and conversations and raised the question of its relevance in the art world of today.
The subject of trippy art is indeed a touchy one since the Internet is filled with irrelevant articles and high-school artists that post their doodles on various social media websites and present them as art. In the era of the World Wide Web, it becomes increasingly more difficult to differentiate between art movements and categories, and actually, find out if some category is in fact, relevant and, for that matter, real. What we do know is that trippy art has its roots in early renditions of psychedelic art, but that doesn’t mean that it excludes famous artists who created works that can be classified as trippy as well.
Inherently related to the usage of illicit substances, trippy art would then be a colloquial term which connotes a transcending psychedelic experience, a 'trip', if you will, a vision of something out of this world, something imagined and essentially abstract. As such, this trippiness could be related to various historic art movements, and certainly to the pioneering one - Surrealism and its artistic offspring.
In the 1930s, Lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or simply acid, was synthesized by Albert Hofmann from the psychedelic mushroom compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Since then, the “medicine for the soul” has been used as a drug that opened the doors of perception, inspiring artists and musicians around the world. It was especially used by the members of countercultures during the 1960s, a time known for the emergence of trippy and psychedelic art. Along with mescaline that can be found in the peyote cactus, LSD-influenced numerous art movements and artists who created exceptionally stunning trippy art that even makes a sober person double check their consciousness.
Where do we begin? The Persistence of Memory, The Elephants, The Great Masturbator are widely known to everyone as the masterpieces of the unique artistic mind, the genius, Salvador Dali. The Surrealist painter has produced indeed many amazing instances of what could be described as trippy. He was best known for his bizarre, oneiric images. The striking imagery in Dali paintings leaves no one indifferent and invites the viewers to immerse themselves into his magical and psychedelic world, leaving common sense and the laws of nature behind, making them irrelevant and unneeded in the universe he created. His influence on the generations upon generations of artists is immeasurable, and, when it comes to trippy art, unsurpassable.
One cannot but mention the French painter and poet Henri Michaux who created astonishing artworks, often under the influence of drugs. H.R. Giger’s works can also be classified as “trippy”, and more so if we know that he was influenced by the aforementioned legendary surrealist.
Mentioning another experimental art hub of the mid-20th century, the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts has produced a group of artists who comprised the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. They were students of Professor Albert Paris Gütersloh, whose emphasis on the techniques of the Old Masters gave them a solid grounding in realism, and still offered enough room to create something that could now be classified as trippy. The group of people who founded the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism included Ernst Fuchs, Rudolf Hausner, Anton Lehmden, Arik Braurer, Wolfgang Hutter, and Fritz Janschka.
Ernst Fuchs’ artwork CHERUB EN FACE WITH ORANGE-COLORED HORNS OF FLAMES (1969), Arik Brauer’s Anything with Wings Will Fly (1973), Rudolf Hausner’s Die Arche des Odysseus (1948–1956), and Wolfgang Hutter’s Die Musen des W. A. M. in der Abwesenheit des Komponisten (1988) can be taken as fine examples of trippy art.
When speaking about trippy and art coming out of it, one cannot but mention the magical brew called ayahuasca, which could be considered a part of the tribal art used among the Indigenous peoples of Peru. The natural psychedelic influences the mind to go into the special state of trance, and people who took it report that they had spiritual revelations about their purpose in this world, about the nature and origins of the universe, and the whole experience has often been described as rebirth. So it is no wonder that many great artworks have been made under the influence of this natural drug. One of the most popular examples is the artwork of Alex Grey, the American artist, who has created numerous paintings, installations, and sculptures, practiced visionary art, process art, and performance art. He is known for collaborating with the band Tool and created the cover image for their album Lateralus.
Apart from Grey, many indigenous tribes have created artworks during the Ayahuasca visions, including pottery and embroidery art with various patterns influenced by the herb. Another trippy art creator is the painter and draftsman Isaac Abrams who proudly admits that he took psychedelics numerous times and that they influenced his creativity and inspired him to paint. All of his paintings are exceptionally trippy, making the viewer wonder just what is really going on in Abrams’ crazy world. Of course, there is also the art of the great writer and artist William S. Burroughs, one of the primary figures of the Beat Generation, considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Apart from being an exceptional novelist, Burroughs also created amazing artwork, very abstract and quite trippy, just like his books are.
Speaking of drug use and music, it's common knowledge that one follows the other more times than not. The iconic festival Burning Man has been the place for artists all over the world who want to present their works in the relaxed and loving environment, and offer something trippier than usual. The artworks at the oh so hippie Burning Man festival of free love and light are usually not seen in traditional galleries, or for that matter, any place that has walls since they usually include big installations created especially for that occasion. One fine example of such installation is Capra J’neva’s Axayacoatl (meaning serpent mask), a 20 ft tall, 13 ft wide copper statue of Quetzalcoatl’s mask, with flame effects and LED lighting.
The legendary Escher, the printmaker, the pioneer of tessellation and pattern in art, is also the creator of an oeuvre that we can certainly describe as trippy. He created works depicting impossible objects, investigations of infinity, reflection, perspective, symmetry, and tessellations. His works leave no one indifferent, you either love them, or you strain your gray cells trying to figure out what goes on in them. His art is especially popular among mathematicians and scientists and it became a prominent element of the popular culture, having appeared on numerous book and album covers.
Escher’s lithograph Relativity, executed in 1953, depicts the world where laws of gravity do not apply. The architectural structure appears to be governed by three sources of gravity, with sixteen characters who are casually living their ordinary lives in the more than abstract environment. It is one of the artist’s most popular works, used in contemporary pop culture numerous times. Escher’s Drawing Hands, executed in 1948, depicts a pair of hands coming out of the sheet of paper, drawing one another. The lithograph is an example of a paradox and has been used in Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, as an example of programming functions which feed each other. Ascending and Descending (1960) depicts a never-ending staircase on a large building. The piece was influenced by Penrose stairs, an impossible object, which is a recurring theme in Escher’s works.
Is trippy art really that relevant of a category in the art world? Is it even a category? According to the Internet, and unfortunately for trippy art, this is not the case. Nevertheless, trippy art is not only reserved for the wannabe-artists, amateurs and doodlers, but even the well-known creative minds have tackled the aesthetics of this idea. As vernacular as it may be, trippy art is infused with the most relevant of the art movements as a challenging, but also an entertaining concept.
So what does the future hold? As the world is slowly but surely getting rid of prejudice surrounding the psychedelic subculture and the usage of drugs that help open the doors of perception, trippy art will surely get its spot under the sun and we can hope that more and more artists will emerge and create such artworks that can be classified as trippy. Additionally, the festival culture is on the rise, which means more and more people are becoming open towards the colorful, unexpected aesthetics, which is definitely good news for the psychedelic or trippy art movement. In the end, only the future will tell, but as the global scene diversifies, the prospects of us using the trippy as a legit term look surprisingly good. Until then, enjoy the already famous pieces and keep an eye out for emerging talents who produce trippy artworks.
All images are for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Salvador Dali - The Great Masturbator via museoreinasofia.es. Images in the slider: Capra J’neva - Axayacoatl via laburningman.com | Salvador Dali - Sleep via artanddesigninspiration.com