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Effing the Ineffable: The Chambers Project Presents a Retrospective of Psychedelic Art

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Effing the Ineffable: The Chambers Project Presents a Retrospective of Psychedelic Art

Tucked up above a bend in the road, a nondescript warehouse sits on the outskirts of the former Northern California gold mining town of Grass Valley. Hidden inside the unassuming building is an exhibition space, but this is no ordinary art gallery. This is the home of The Chambers Project, a gallery space dedicated to showcasing some of the top psychedelic art in the world. It’s also the center of one of the most innovative painting styles of our time: live collaborative painting. 

Poster art for the opening show of The Chambers Project “Togetherrr” exhibit.

The Chambers Project is the “artlovechild” of the enterprising wizard of collaborative live painting, Brian Chambers, who serves as curator, gallerist, patron, collector, master art facilitator and collaborative conductor. For the past 13 years, Chambers has been pushing the boundaries of collaborative creativity by commissioning large, highly technical paintings done by two to five artists at the same time over multiple days, usually at festivals and gallery shows. 

To experience the progression of one of these gigantic abstract psychedelic paintings over several days is like watching a galaxy of universes emerge from deep within the painting. You watch the artists bridging the gap between mind and matter through paint to recall visions of expansive connectivity from the psychedelic experience. Each painting acts as an artifact of the gathering of like-minded souls sharing time and space “Togetherrr,” which is the name of the exhibit. 

Among Chambers’ achievements in his quest to bring as much psychedelic art to as many people as possible, his most enduring legacy is introducing the concept of live collaborative painting, which has now spread throughout the world. Chambers commissioned the first collaborative painting at the now legendary 2009 Symbiosis Gathering at Camp Mather near Yosemite, where the artists MARS-1 (Mario Martinez), David Choong Lee, and Oliver Vernon worked together to create a piece called “Symbiosis.” Chambers was immediately hooked and the concept of live collaborative painting was born. 

“I had the idea to get these guys together for what seemed like a potentially fun and exciting project, and they were open and receptive to it,” says Chambers. “The response within the festival was so strong that we all knew it was worth exploring further.” 

“Symbiosis” by MARS-1 (Mario Martinez), David Choong Lee, and Oliver Vernon. Photo credit: Free Frame.

Chambers said he selected the crew after meeting the first artist in the collective, MARS-1, in 2008. According to Chambers, MARS-1 introduced him to Lee and Vernon and also to Damon Soule and Nome Edonna who became members of the collective as well. 

“They are the core crew and have been influencing each other for over twenty years,” says Chambers, who said the collective have also put out several books together, including Further in 2010. “I just started collecting their works individually and was very drawn to all their styles.”

The practice of collaborative live art spread and soon artists were working together on live paintings at nearly every transformational festival. Yet the scope and scale of the projects that Chambers has commissioned over the past 13 years have exceeded everyone’s expectations and are held as the gold standard of the art form. 

The Furtherrr Collective

The group of artists centered around Chambers became known as the Furtherrr Collective, which includes the artists MARS-1, Vernon, Soule, Lee, and Edonna. The paintings co-created by the Furtherrr Collective are both dynamic and fluid, free and wandering, yet tightly executed with extreme precision and technical skill. 

An introduction to the Furtherrr Collective and a recap of their collaborative painting at the Togetherrr exhibit.

After the successful collaboration at the 2009 Symbiosis Gathering, Chambers commissioned more collaborative paintings and began to sell this art to his friends. The paintings are appreciated as beautiful works of art, but also as investments with a large potential upside and these purchases support some of the leading psychedelic artists in the world. 

A particularly ambitious collaboration took place at the 2012 Pyramid Eclipse Symbiosis Gathering at Pyramid Lake in western Nevada. Chambers and the Furtherrr Collective built a half underground live art sanctuary amphitheater that encased and protected the artists and onlookers from windstorms. It was a portal of possibilities that could transport participants to another time and reality. It also served as the stepping stone for the Collective’s next move, something much larger.

At the 2015 Symbiosis Gathering, Chambers and his crew elevated the art of collaborative painting to another level by constructing a large wooden grandstand stadium for people to watch the live painting from stadium seating like they would at an opera, ballet or other performance. Fans enjoyed hanging out with friends while watching the artists working together, one brushstroke at a time, to create large scale, complex images of extreme complexity with seeming ease. 

Soule says the collaborative process is a “voluntary collectivism” that allows each individual artist the freedom to create independently, while maintaining harmony and cohesiveness. Together, he says this voluntary collectivism creates something whose synthesis is much greater than the sum of its parts. Alchemy through brushstrokes, from mind to matter, just as the original meaning of the Greek word “psychedelic,” which means mind manifesting.

Standing up close to a giant painting while it is in process creates a container to witness the small changes that happen over a weekend. Paying attention to the subtle evolution, taking in all of the nuance and pure technique being displayed by each painter, allows viewers to experience a greater depth and vision in the painting. Watching the entire process of a painting develop over a whole weekend is mesmerizing and intriguing, igniting your curiosity of how it will end up. Nobody knows, so you wait patiently, until the end. 

“They’ve had tons of fun doing it over the years and through the process they’ve gotten more and more proficient and cohesive in their approach,” says Chambers of the artists. “They can create a masterpiece together far quicker than they can on a solo level, an example where the sum is greater than the parts.

Becoming entranced by one of these enormous paintings can change your perspective on life, consciousness, and our place in the universe. It has the potential to send you to another dimension, especially when you are in an altered state of consciousness, and you suddenly find yourself effing the ineffable. When participants at the 2015 Symbiosis Gathering wanted to take a break from painting, they could go below the grandstand to a magical teahouse in full psychedelic glory designed by Sparkles Positron (Julianne Yates) in collaboration with her partner Soule. 

The Spring 2022 Togetherrr Exhibit

After 13 years and a few handfuls of epic collaborations, the Furtherrr Collective crew gathered again this past spring for a retrospective show. The Chambers Project’s Spring 2022 show “Togetherrr” showcased the creme de la creme of the Furtherrr Collective’s collaborative works, along with several other projects initiated by Chambers with individual members of the collective.

Before entering the 2000-square-foot gallery, guests were greeted by a welcome mat with The Chambers Project logo, an image of a psychedelic scarab with a crying eye drawn by Rick Griffin, legendary rock poster and surf artist and one of the most influential artists of the 1960s and 1970s. Griffin had always been one of Chambers’ favorite artists. When Chambers began working with Griffin’s estate to license some of his iconic images, Chambers gave the classic art a whole new life. 

The Chambers Project logo includes an image of a psychedelic scarab with a crying eye drawn by Rick Griffin.

Walking into the gallery, guests were immediately greeted by a life-size sculpture of Ralph Steadman’s iconic character Raul Duke, aka Dr. Gonzo, from Hunter S. Thompson’s belovedly bizarre story of a depraved reporter, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” One of Chambers’ favorite books, which he first read at age 15, it helped set him off on his weird life trajectory. 

After many years of loving everything about the book, Chambers was able to connect with Steadman, who served as Thompson’s collaborator and the book’s illustrator. Together with sculptor Jud Bergeron, he brought the character to life, frozen in bronze, mid-step with an extra long cigarette in his hand. Behind Dr. Gonzo are two of the best examples of collaborative psychedelic paintings from the Furtherrr Collective including the 10’x23’ “Momentum” from 2014, the largest painting in the show.

Ralph Steadman and Jud Bergeron created the sculpture of Dr. Gonzo. Photo credit: Jon Ohia.

As you browse through the gallery, getting lost in one painting after another, you can’t miss Chambers, the super friendly bearded guy with a giant smile, one of the most passionate aficionados of psychedelic art that you will ever meet. Chambers is also an artist in the sense that he has refined taste and can spot what is good and who will work well together. “My art is my curation.. and bringing people together.” says Chambers in a recent podcast. Like an architect of a transcendental symphony, Chambers the maestro is raising psychedelic art to a new level, finally putting it on the world stage it has long deserved.

At the opening of the Togetherrr show in March, Chambers glided past, blending into the paintings. Decked out in black and white from head to toe, he is reminiscent of “Dr. Gonzo” from his hat with a small image of the doctor, to his salt and pepper beard. His wavy black and white op-art unbuttoned short sleeved shirt revealed a burst of color from a tye-dyed shirt with Griffin’s crying eye image created by Oliver Vernon. Chamber’s custom shoes were fashioned from the hypnotizing black and white Infinite Tapestry painting by MARS-1.

Brian Chambers at The Chambers Project Spring 2022 Exhibit “Togetherrr.” Photo credit: Free Frame.

A Psychedelic Surprise 

The surprise work of the retrospective show was the astonishing collaboration between Steadman and MARS-1, begun in 2016 and finished two years later, titled “Dystopia With a Glimmer of Hope.“ It could have easily been called “Fear and Loathing at Burning Man (While on Acid).” According to Chambers, it is the only collaboration that Steadman has ever done. 

“Dystopia With a Glimmer of Hope“ by Ralph Steadman and MARS-1.

Chambers has created a new type of art show opening by pairing music specifically tailored for live painting. Music and art meshing together like yin and yang, the music carried the artists along into the flow and inspired them to create pieces that will inspire others for years to come. For the Togetherrr opening and closing shows, Chambers chose the musicians A Path Untold, The Gaslamp Killer, and DJ Qbert to create the soundtrack for the event. The Chambers Project recently started a music label with the same name that includes these musicians and Chambers has plans to expand to include many others.

Painting to the beat of the DJ’s, the five painters of the Furtherrr Collective worked on a large painting composed of two large separate pieces of canvas. Before the painting was begun, a palette of colors was selected and the artists slowly added layers of paint until images began to form and the painting became its own entity. During the show, two collaborative paintings were finished and another two paintings were completed during the Togetherrr exhibit. These paintings include TOGETHERRR #1, #2, #3 and #4.

According to Chambers, more than 3,500 visitors attended the Togetherrr exhibition during its 10-week run. “It was definitely a very powerful exhibition that the community had personal connections to, as many were there to witness the creation of these masterpieces which were painted at live events over the course of the last 13 years,” says Chambers. 

“For me as the curator, and oftentimes patron of these collaborative projects, it made for a very gratifying show that meant a lot to me. We have shared many incredible experiences and made a ton of amazing friends along the way, so to get everyone together again was very special. To get to see a number of the most epic pieces hanging alongside one another was very impressive and undeniably impactful.”

Three of the paintings in the show were collaborations with MARS-1 and different notable psychedelic painters. Probably the most well known painting in the show is a collaboration between MARS-1 and Alex Grey called “Bicycle Day.” This iconic painting was painted live during the Bicycle Day celebrations in San Francisco in 2012 and 2013. The painting depicts the anatomical illustration of a man floating in the pineal gland of space while drinking LSD from a vial as his brain connects to the galaxy through a spiraling vortex. 

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This collaboration between MARS-1 and Grey is especially meaningful to Chambers. He was looking at an Alex Grey painting in his sophomore science classroom while on LSD when his teacher told the class that the painting had been inspired by LSD. This experience made him realize that psychedelic art was his passion. Chambers says he had just finished reading Fear and Loathing and was inspired by the psychedelic movement in San Francisco. 

Painting by MARS1. Doze Green – Metatron.

Chambers began collecting baseball cards and comic books as a kid andhe got big into attending lots of concerts of the Southern jam band Widespread Panic. He bought posters at each concert he attended and he also got interested in psychedelic rock posters from the 1960s. 

“In 1995, after my life altering experience in science class, I bought my first piece of art, a signed Albert Hofmann poster from 1993 celebrating Bicycle Day,” says Chambers. “I bought it for $1,000 which was a ton of money for that time in my life, and I thought, ‘maybe you are an art collector.’” 

Then in 2008, after seeing MARS-1 live painting at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California, Chambers had an epiphany. Chambers soon met MARS-1 and bought his first original painting from him, thus initiating Chambers’ psychedelic art patronage and a career as an art dealer.

The value of collaborative artworks has escalated since the inception of the form. When he first met the members of the collective and began collecting their solo works in 2008, Chambers says galleries representing the artists thought collaborative painting was too risky and could devalue the market for each artist’s individual works. Chambers says he rejected this view and the attitude of the galleries quickly changed. 

“I saw it as a way of expanding their markets, and a way to cast a broader net while having fun engaging the audience with a unique and innovative approach,” says Chambers. “These guys truly have redefined what collaborative art is and can be, and the art market as a whole has definitely been supportive of this. These artists have gotten increasingly better, and collectively can create masterworks that are very cohesive in a short amount of time.”

According to Chambers, one 2009 collaborative painting that has sold for a significant amount of money is the first collaboration between MARS-1, Vernon and Soule. The work is 4-foot by 6-foot and was painted live over Halloween weekend at the grand opening of his first art gallery in New Orleans. This work, entitled “Ringwald,” sold at the opening of the “Togetherrr” exhibit for $175,000 and is now in a private collection in Washington state. 

“Ringwald” by MARS-1, Vernon and Soule.

Chambers says he has received offers on some collaborative pieces that were difficult to turn down. But he says that the majority of the works will remain in his private collection.  “Many of these pieces have become quite iconic and are viral images known all over the world,” says Chambers. “But they also represent key moments in art history and my story in the arts on a very personal level, so I simply can’t imagine ever selling them, as I need them to tell the chronological tale of how we got here and where it all began.” 

Psychedelic art was also projected on the outside of the warehouse during the Togetherrr shows, thus marking the first projections of a promising new collaboration called Chambers Obscura. The partnership unites Chambers and Travis Threlkel, co-founder of Obscura Digital, one of the pioneers of large projections of art and video mapping on huge prominent buildings around the world. 

Chambers stated that building plans for Chambers Obscura are still evolving. “We will use the space to show our audience what we are working on,” said Chambers. “As time goes by, it will be built out into a full projection theater and will become open to the public for the full on immersive experience for all artists in The Chambers Project/Chambers Obscura ecosystem.”

“These days the experience economy is a booming business and immersive arts are very much in the early stages. I see this as an opportunity to help pioneer and advance an industry still in its infancy, and to make an impact in this field.”

Threlkel said recently on a podcast that “these Obscura chambers are built to blow you away with beauty and love.”

Update: An earlier version of this article stated a dome behind the The Chambers Project gallery would house the Chambers Obscura projections. The article has been updated to reflect that the remodel is still evolving.

Featured image: “Bicycle Day” collaboration between MARS-1 and Alex Grey.

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