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November 21st, 2001 Patrick Randolph Bell | Visual Arts
 

99.420 Percent Pure

The "illegal" cannabis art of Damian Forest Ray Thomas.

     
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When the Brooklyn Museum hosted an exhibit featuring a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung, some people had a problem. Mayor Giuliani even tried to have the museum's public funding revoked because he thought it offended his constituents'
religious sensibilities.

Damian Forest Ray Thomas' art isn't about religion, but for the amount of flak he's likely to face, it might as well be. "Unless I show people an original, they're sometimes clueless," says Thomas. "When I tell them there's THC in my art, the light bulb goes on. It's pretty amazing; then it's like they're holding a Bible on fire."

That's right--smoking one of Thomas' drawings would get you pretty high. However, destroying such meticulously composed pieces, not to mention an entirely new form of art (he's unaware of any other artists using marijuana) could be tantamount to sacrilege of the most heinous sort.

Thomas' art reveals an almost Native American sensibility. The majority of his work is monochromatic, reflecting the blacks, grays and in-betweens of his main media--marijuana resin and ash. Recently, Thomas has brought green into his work by grinding up marijuana leaf to create a powder that's sprinkled over the sticky resin. All of these materials are then "painted" or "rubbed" onto 100-percent hemp paper. An occasional underlying pencil sketch, to ensure accuracy when applying the resin, is the only deviation from absolute cannabic purity. "Resin from a toke stone or a bong stem is best," says Thomas. "It 'bleeds' onto the paper. It's similar to joint resin--especially when I use this [Church of the Living Tree] paper from California. I get a watercolor effect. It has so much moisture that I'll get a black line of resin and a yellowish bleed."

Although Oregon and seven other states now have laws permitting marijuana use for medical purposes, possession still remains a federal crime. Therefore, is this art inherently illegal? Are medical marijuana patients the only people who may "legally" possess this art?

According to the Portland Police Bureau, if the material used in Thomas' work is figured to be less than an ounce, he would probably not be cited. However, the police haven't yet been confronted with Pot Art per se.

The young artist fully realizes the potential legal consequences of his chosen medium: "I'm standing here with my art. This is my weapon. What's the government going to do, make my art illegal? If I get busted--which I do expect--I'll fight it up to my last bit of energy...my last bit of resin."

A case concerning the use of a complete marijuana leaf in another piece of art made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was decided that, since the leaf in question was contained within a clear epoxy, the illegal nature of the object was nullified because the epoxy rendered it inaccessible and unusable. Thomas, however, refuses to compromise the purity of his artwork by encasing it within a toxic chemical laminate.

A couple of months prior to Sept. 11, Thomas began working on his most ambitious project to date: a full-size American flag made using his unique approach to cannabis materials and 100-percent hemp fabric.

Burn this flag, I dare you.


Some of Thomas' work can be found at Mary Jane's House of Glass, 212 NE 164th Ave., #16, Vancouver, Wash.




Neither the experts at the Museum of Modern Art's Drawing Center in New York nor the assistant curator at the Portland Art Museum's Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts has heard of drawings being made from cannabis resin/ash/leaf.




Thomas can be reached at buzz@wweek.com or call 243-2122, ext. 380. We accept insider trading!
 
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