Woman in a Rocking Chair (2012)
August on the Quad
August is when New Mexico feels most like itself. In its element. The drama comes out in full display. The colors of rock and sand deepen, huge thunderclouds form over the mountains; the land is drenched, the sky is on fire. On the other hand, August, overlapping with monsoon season almost fully, almost always, is also a time when New Mexico is least like itself, being usually dry, bare, unforgiving. Instead, maybe June is a time when New Mexico is more like itself; when things get dangerous. Dry heat and lingering Spring winds can cause a deadly fire season. Or January, when the houses look like frosted gingerbread and the cold is enough to snap you in half—a gingerbread person. August does it for me. (As if to reinforce my point, this week we have forest fires coexisting with monsoons.) I came to New Mexico 13 years ago this month.
In August 2007 I started my Freshman year at College of Santa Fe. CSF was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. It was alive, laid back, beautiful, poignant. There were lots of drugs. It catalyzed an ongoing change in me, and often I look back on that month of my life as a time when I began to actually find myself. But that process would take—is taking—years. It would manifest in countless moments and places and memories.
On the quad, I found several friends. I wandered through the darkness seeing flashes or bubbles or rings of rainbow gossamers. I laid aimlessly on the grass, (back when there was grass,) and got engulfed in the towering, white cumulonimbi, each with wispy extremities folding back in spiraling fractal horns. Mostly I watched the sunsets, and that was enough for me. I had lost my mother, an immensely talented painter two years and one month prior to arriving at college. In the skies of New Mexico was enough art to fill several lifetimes.
Chaotic Vajra Whirlpool (2012)
Surfing on Volcanic Rock
Coming down from the morning’s acid trip, I slowly downed a mug of mushroom tea. Zeta and Lyle sailed me to Diablo Canyon. We clattered across loose shingles of rock to Solar Cave, I in just flip-flops and ragged jeans. With my didgeridoo, I experimented playing in hollows here and along the riverbed to see how they changed the feeling of the sound. The sun may have set but the ground still glowed; periwinkle, ochre, rust.
My second time at Diablo, Jeremy brought a vial. We squoze tiny rivers out onto our eager tongues. Moronically, I climbed over the cliff’s edge and down 8 feet with didgeridoo in hand. I arrived in a cave just large enough to lie in and played for what felt like hours. Down there I couldn’t hear him calling for me to come back. When I was done I stood back up, my head swimming in the morning heat. I looked up and saw a jet placed on the sky. I looked down and saw a Jeep way down in the riverbed of the canyon. I felt a stab of vertigo and nearly didn’t manage to climb back up to safety.
We arrived at the rock formation I refer to as The Lizard. It looks, to me, like a giant lizard lying on an angled shelf. But it also looks sort of like an ice cream cone with a spire of soft-serve at the top. Staggering across its shoulder, we found a unique new perspective gazing down the curve of this basalt cone that resembled the pipeline of a wave. We seemed to be sideways, surfing as the wave came up to meet us. I was utterly bewildered in space for the second time in as many hours. Remarking on the various adventures of the day I gazed at the mountains and felt it: Home.
On yet another occasion Carey and I, up on top, watched down in the riverbed our friends Yggdrasil and Naomi as they approached a sandstone amphitheater. Naomi’s flute was clearly audible to us hundreds of feet up. We hoped to find a path that would lead us straight down to meet them but came up along a sheer drop. I desperately struggled to ascend back up the waterfall of sand we had carelessly surfed down. The mushrooms added a layer to that challenge. My heart was pounding in a panic as the ground slipped out from under me. Crawling on all fours I overcame the pull of gravity with Carey beside me. This accomplishment reassured me of the fact of who I am. A moment later, blown out by the wind I am completely humbled. This is why I’m here.
Ode to the Thief (2012)
A truckload of us road-tripped to White Sands and I, upon passing through the border patrol checkpoint, ate a small but potent mushroom. Arriving just in time for the caress of sunset, we poached out a dune and dug our bare feet in, moaning with pleasure at the cool, soft sand just below the surface. I smoked Salvia and became the San Andreas mountain range—dark, jagged silhouette against the huge gradient. Any physical or psychic discomfort washed away by the spreading sand. The Salvia wore off and the Psilocybin rose in a euphoric crescendo before fading away, beautiful, mirage-like. When we drank tequila, we sang, shouted, rolled over laughing, and I fell asleep finally with stars in my eyes and a rock for a pillow.
Another year, Carey, Kurt, and I were out there filming a project. Kurt being the main character and White Sands being the setting. Snow-white lizards with indigo shadows raised their little heads towards me. Hosoo and Transmongolia echoed through our minds. I felt my soul growing towards an unknowable future.
Out of Chaos Comes Order (2013)
On the lake we spent our best days. Cliff-diving, swimming, building fires, off-roading, getting drunk, getting high, tripping. It would rain or hail, and purify us. The scales of the water gliding by in perfect formation; the mauve or taupe as it might be perfectly contrasted by yellow, blue, white, red somewhere in the sky. It would be dark, confusing at times, but August waters were always the best to swim in. A ringent vagina whose meandering red clay cliffs open and close around the mild reservoir. Electrified into a constant state of arousal we make our way down the winding and potholed road to the tip of the peninsula and back again. Swimming now out to the tiny, little, red island at the foot of an imposing cliff. Bask naked in the smooth clay, the sacred water, the cool, grey sky overhead playing at becoming a bit more menacing.
An odd number of years later, Rowan and I drop acid in the morning. He is the driver and I’m the journeyman. At the amphitheater, music reverberates around us in molasses thick waves, thick enough to see. We buggy on down the road to the river, truck jumping at every ripple in the sand. A million ripples melt me. My reality is like a slinky undulating before my eyes and I am nothing. Not me. I have in my hand this personality I tote obsessively around. But I am like the cold stone in the desert. The white lizard on the dune. The ice cream cone in the rock. Like the North Star overhead. Like the same lake below me; a vivid blue canvas of sky against which the dream gesticulates, rabid; and like splotchy rainbows coalescing down from the mountains to settle in every tree’s crenelations I am a shore of wind brushing past chamisa that burbles out of the red sandstone and cotton clouds mimicking its every movement; its essence even—my essence.
Scandinavian Aurora-Goat People (2013)
Throughout the trip, I was engulfed in mesmerizing, tessellating scales. Like eyes, leaves, or shapes influenced by Mayan carvings, the scales cascaded uniformly across my field of vision—eyes open or closed—from the bottom left to the top right. And at the far left and right extremes, the scales opened out to infinity. The very image of impermanence. The scales encompassed everything. Beyond any art that I could possibly create. This trip, taken in the hopes of testing this acid months before I planned to take it on Meow Wolf’s opening night, proved much too strong and I haven’t touched it since then. It was the life-affirming, life-changing experience I had hoped for and then some. The direct opposite of
Before all of that (6 years) but still foremost in my mind: I was shut in my room—(“Kingle”)—as a tidal wave of liquid acid broke over me. From start to finish, 24 hours. In terror. Every habit and tic I had accumulated in the last 20 years became magnified into one tremendous hesitation. Everything I believed I was flew away just as I tried to grasp it. Covered in ants/spiderwebs, paranoid or talking to God; to the aliens in my corkboard, losing my mind so thoroughly like smashed Matryoshka and careening jet planes made out of every small action or thought, leaving me in this nowhere oblivion. Had to crawl my way out.
The brushstroke in the sky; the tone of the guitar; the unreachable and abstract sensations that embody serious poignancy and impress upon our vulnerable minds the emotional heft, metaphysical substance that art is to produce a measurable effect on us. That’s a form I could inhabit. Incarnation’s great, at times, I think.
Forest for the Trees (2011)
So many images could be seen taking form in the spurts of ink on a blank, white page as I blew my breath over them. What then to do but color all those windows in, contrasting each with its neighbors, producing overarching patterns like stained glass, like trees, clouds, rivers, lakes, mountains, canyons, cliffs, people, animals, insects, landscapes, and mindscapes. Carey and I worked 7 hours one time on a single 12 in2 plot. “Blooming, buzzing confusions:” a cartwheeling, cobweb dinosaur parade, Sideshow Bob speaking a many-legged, skeletonized Pegasus into existence. Bees, wasps, and other dark, jagged insect shapes appearing in the peripheral. A schizophrenic reality shattering into uncountable shards all colored differently like the blades of an umbrella or segments of a carnival tent beyond time.
Untitled (Sideshow Bob) (2013)
Halfway between Salvia and acid was a kind of ego loss I fell in love with, and have been chasing throughout my art. The overwhelm of too many details to count; the beauty of original, unique and interesting, abstract shapes; pareidolia; the careful and strategic arrangement of color; the melting and stark quality of these cascading planes through space, constantly shifting their forms so as to be unrecognizable sober. “This is it.” The message from God, or those aliens, or whomever. Having dreamt about this message many times…if you look too closely at it, it appears dead; superficial. Meaningless. Insane. Impossible!
Carey and I throw a square yard of paper on the floor and start dropping ink. Blowing the little tendrils all over until our lips are purple and numb. It’s called Cartographunk (self-explanatory.) Coloring it takes the better part of a year—starting in January—but at least 60% of it is completed in the Summer. People come and go, coloring in shapes, and day by day it gets fuller. I drink mushroom tea and color it for 13 hours straight. The frame is a fucking fiasco (best not mention it.) The biggest piece I’ve made in this style. It sells, naked and tacked to the wall, for a fraction of the price I had had in mind. The shows went alright besides that.
The Shapes of Wrath (2012)
It’s a warm, comfortable, breathtakingly beautiful day. The door is open and I’m pacing outside and in. There are smells of dinner from nearby houses. Carey’s suggestion of Zeppelin is fitting I think as I blow on the ink…Come back inside, cut the jagged outline, go back outside, drop the ink, blow it around, come back inside…A progression this time from flat to 3-dimensional. An intention. A vision. The colors pop and grow throughout in agate layers. It takes almost a year to finish my first triptych. “Dark is the Night.” “The Center is Everywhere.” “The Awakened Way.”
Approaching Wholeness (triptych)
At Meow Wolf I’m given a 12’ x 14’ space on the wall (if you include the emergency exit.) I eventually decided to include the emergency exit. My idea was nascence. It included space ships, a rip in spacetime, abstract mindscapes, the shape and surrounding landscape of a New Mexico lake, a juniper anaglyph, and the tessellating scales I saw in October. The concept stretched feasibility. So I scaled that back and put together the design for a fourth piece, a capstone to the triptych I’d done in 2014.
Nascence (aborted mural concept, 2015)
For two months on evenings and weekends, I worked on my mural, using a borrowed projector, scissor lift, ladders, and the materials my budget had allowed me. Since my space was limited, the projector couldn’t be positioned far enough away for the whole mural to fit on the wall. I improvised the surrounding shapes and colors when I finished with the main design. I got help from two volunteers, mixing UV-reactive paint with white to make it visible on the black background. The mural would have color-changing lights as well as blacklights shining on it.
Finally when it was finished, two days before opening, I sealed it with polyurethane. Apparently, you’re not supposed to use a roller to apply it. My mural was covered in horrible white bubbles the next day. I spent the final 48 hours carefully sanding the mural, patching over-sanded areas with fresh paint, and applying a new coat of polyurethane with a paintbrush. And it worked. My mural has been viewed by well over a million people as a tiny and easy to ignore part of the House of Eternal Return. Meow Wolf has become infamous and shuttered its doors practically 4 years to the day it opened because of COVID.
Wholeness (Meow Wolf mural, 2016)
Two weeks after HoER opened, I began work on my new series, still untitled, of four pieces corresponding with the seasons. The Ecstasy of Spring was the first. It comprises a higher number of shapes than anything I’ve done before or since. It follows a gradient: pale, unsaturated, neutral, and faint colors around the edges; intense, bright, dark, and saturated colors in the center. It is like the epicenter of all blooming flowers. It took 6 months to complete, right down to the day.
The Ecstasy of Spring (2016)
For the first 6 months of 2018, I didn’t allow myself to drink alcohol. Instead, I focused on finishing my debut album (previously slated for 2014:) Pipe Dreams by Smoking Bullet. The music is psychedelic/world folk/avant-garde soundscapes that accompany stream of consciousness spoken word poetry. It has impressions of acid and other psychedelics, fueled overall by daily cannabis use that I hope comes across in the title. The CD is covered with my art: The “Approaching Wholeness” triptych plus the untitled “Sideshow Bob” piece on the back. The CD features a photo by Ysidro Barela, used with permission.
Pipe Dreams CD Art (2018)
I also hid 10 codes inside the cases of CDs that I sold, each redeemable for a specific original piece in my series, “People.” These were 10 much smaller experimental pieces where I tried out concepts and patterns before applying them to a larger format.
(examples from the People Series)
In October I started the second piece in the Seasons series, Indelible Autumn. It follows the same conventions as Ecstasy, with the colors reversed. The gradients of each are as smooth as I can make them. Autumn shows my reverence for the season of decay, in the depth of its darkness and looming ink shapes. It’s like looking down at a ground covered in leaves of every shape and color and it hints at the approach of barren Winter. This piece took just about as long. Autumn and Spring contrast and reflect one another, and establish a rhythm for the series I hope to both continue as well as disrupt. My Winter and Summer pieces are still untitled and unbegun.
Indelible Autumn (2019)
In 2019 I camped on the Rio Chama North of Abiquiu Lake, took mushrooms, and hiked on the Continental Divide Trail. I had several nested difficult times throughout the day and then was unceremoniously bathed in reverie and wonder. I took photos with my phone, one of which I’m calling “Quintessential Abiquiu” and which I’ve been trying to nail down in colored pencil for months. Perfectionism stands in the way of me finishing it (never a problem with fully abstract pieces.) The same reason I took such a long hiatus from representational art in the first place if I’m being honest. But it continues to be worthwhile.
Carnival Chameleon (2020)
Carey was kind enough to gift me some watercolor pencils—a favorite of my mother’s, and a tool she used extensively in her work. I’ve only managed three experiments so far with them, each one slightly more fleshed out than the last. Now that the third experiment, Cosmic Jungle, is finished, I’m planning on getting back to work on my Abiquiu drawing before starting my Winter piece, finally. But maybe, before it gets too cold, I’ll return to Abiquiu to try my hand at a plein air.
Cosmic Jungle (2020)
On top of these unfinished and unbegun projects, I’m trying to write a novel about time travel and acid. It’s too primitive to delve deeper just yet. Psychedelics have had a less active role in shaping my life lately. I use them more to get things done and to reconnect with my spirituality than for recreation. I’ll always have my experiences and memories. I’ll always be finishing a piece as well as starting one.
Quintessential Abiquiu, unfinished (2020)
Essay by Patrick Barrow