Ethnobotanicals have always been of interest to me, from my Ayahuasca experiences and even other plant medicines have had a major role to play in my own inner work and path corrections. Then when you combine it with Visionary art you have my undivided attention.
I recently came across this painting across this piece of artwork “The Stoned Ape Theory” and found it fascinating, for those of you who don’t know about what that is, this article on mushrooms will get you up to speed. So here’s a little interview with Jim Figora the creator of this piece of art.
When did you know that art was your calling?
I think there is a difference between being born as an artistic person, and choosing to pursue the arts as a career path. I don’t think I ever had a calling to become an artist, it was just something I had to do, a kind of compulsion to create. Some of my earliest memories involved making art as a young child, an inherent need to express my thoughts and feelings through visual representations of what was on my mind.
I was lucky enough to have a very devoted art teacher in high school, Caroline Freese, who pushed me to develop my techniques and knowledge of art, and eventually encouraged me to go to college and major in 2-dimensional design with a focus on oil painting.
Since then, making paintings has really just been a hobby of mine, a kind of meditation that keeps me sane, and a way for me to express my feelings and explore subjects that interest me. It’s really only the last couple of years that my creations have attracted a decent amount of attention and commercial success, which has allowed me to support myself and turn my passion into more of a career.
How was your relationships with your parents and siblings as a child?
I had a pretty “normal” childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, the typical middle-class American experience. I have 2 older brothers that I love dearly, who were always a source of inspiration, encouragement, and a healthy dose of competition. My parents were both blue-collar, responsible, hard-working people. They definitely pushed me and my brothers to strive for success, both academically and spiritually.
They were strict about the aspects of life that they valued, such as work ethic, honesty, integrity, and devotion. But they gave us a certain amount of freedom which allowed us to explore the things that brought us happiness, and I’m grateful for that.
What drew you to ethnobotanicals?
My interest in psychoactive plants started at a pretty early age. I think it began when I first really began listening to the Grateful Dead as a teenager, which is a body of music that absolutely spoke to my soul. It was my curiosity of the 60s counterculture that led me to start experimenting with cannabis and LSD, both of which changed my life forever. I became fascinated with altered-states of consciousness, initially because I wanted to know what influenced my favorite artists to create such unique music.
This was the early 2000s in Prohibitionist America, so it wasn’t necessarily easy to find all of the compounds I wanted to explore. But a pivotal point in my explorations of consciousness came when I discovered the website Erowid, which is an extensive online vault of information regarding plants and drugs. It is a library of knowledge, containing ethnobotanical information, pharmacology, trip reports, historical usage, cultural impacts, and preparation and dosage information.
Erowid was a game changer for me, and I soaked up as much information as I could. Many of the most interesting drugs were still legal at the time, either because of their obscurity, grey areas in the language of the laws, or novelty on the market. So thanks to Erowid and the online world-marketplace, I began ordering, collecting, and using anything that interested me. I didn’t need an Owsley manufacturing LSD when I had easy access to Hawaiian Baby Woodrose seeds, morning glories, mescaline-containing cacti, salvia divinorum, and a pharmacopeia of yet-to-be-scheduled, novel research chemicals delivered to my mailbox.
It’s only been the last 3 years that I’ve taken my love of ethnobotanicals to the next level, having travelled to the tropics of central and South America to work for organizations dedicated to the responsible use, preservation, and knowledge of psychoactive plants.
I started my journey as a naïve kid interested in altering his mind, but eventually realized the importance of respecting traditions, ceremony, and botanical knowledge. I plan on furthering my understanding in the next year, by immersing myself into some of the cultures of the Amazon who have been stewards of these plants for millennia.
What kind of influence have psychedelics and medicinal plants have on you?
Its hard to know who I would have been if I never got into psychedelics. I’ve always been an adventurous, outgoing person, so I’m not sure my personality would be much different. I think the strongest influence they’ve had on me deals with motivation issues. There have been times in my life where I’ve been lazy, complacent, content with just going through the motions of working a 9-5 job during the day and watching mindless entertainment at night.
But a heroic dose of psychedelics a couple times a year has a way of making me more driven and dedicated in many aspects of my life. They have a way of showing you your life’s purpose, explaining the importance of leaving a legacy, and give many lessons about how to maximize fun, adventure, and love.
So I think they’ve definitely made me a better, more patient artist, because my body of work is the main legacy that I will leave this planet after I die, so I need it to be the best work I can possibly do. I also doubt I would have taken so many open-ended, international trips without my mind being opened by psychedelics.
Once you take 5 grams of mushrooms, buying a one way flight to a country you’ve never been to before seems like an easy endeavour!
What do you believe your purpose as an artist is?
Like I said in the question above, for me it’s about leaving a legacy. It’s a gift to be alive, and I’m especially grateful to be born with the opportunities and talents that I have. I think it’s important to show your gratitude to this amazing planet by devoting yourself to something that will transcend the short amount of years you have.
Some people might achieve this by having kids, inventing new technology, writing a book, recording music, or even simply planting a tree. For me, it will be the body of artwork that I create, and I’m just getting started!
As far as the psychedelic subject matter goes, I do hope that it makes people curious and more open to experience these plants and drugs. If humans still exist in a couple hundred years, then we will have fully incorporated psychedelic sacraments into our way of life. So the more artists who help break down the stigma, the better.
I’m just a small piece in the puzzle, but if humans are going to get our shit together and learn how to live harmoniously with each other and the planet, it needs to happen soon. And psychedelics will be a major tool to help us get there. So psychedelic artists are very important in my opinion, as the world depends on us!
Do you manage to make a decent living only based on your art or would you say it’s more of a hobby, do elaborate?
For many years, it was really just a hobby. I’ve done a fair amount of commissions over the years, vended at festivals, and sold some prints online, but it was never close to enough income to support myself without a day job. I’ve always resisted the temptation to make art that I thought would be commercially successful. First and foremost, it has to be meaningful for me.
Because of my unusual interests and strange way of expressing them, I never had much of an audience until recently. The internet and social media definitely helped me out though, and the last couple years I’ve definitely “found the others” of people who understand my work, and resonate with the obscure subject matters that I find interesting.
So now I’m happy to say that my income from art has finally reached a point where I don’t need to work a dreaded day job. I’m incredibly grateful to all of the patrons who have bought originals and prints from me.
How long does it take you to create your work, describe the process in brief please!
I usually work on one painting for maybe 2 or 3 months. I take a many breaks and spend lots of time staring at the canvas to see how it wants to evolve. It always starts with a strong idea, with an emphasis on content. It has to really mean something and tell a story.
But the composition, colors, and visual elements evolve throughout the whole process. The paintings are alive and know how they want to look, it’s up to me to just kind of be the medium between the muse and the brush.
Name two of your favourite pieces that you have created and why did you choose them?
I think “The Stoned Ape Theory” and “Exploring Ancient Knowledge” are my two best so far, for a couple different reasons. First of all, my technique on these works has definitely improved compared to my earlier work. The brush work is tighter, the compositions are better, and the overall look is harmonious and visually pleasing to look at.
But these 2 also strongly focus on content. There are layers of meaning in these paintings, which has been a culmination of the years I’ve spent researching the subject matter (mushrooms influencing human evolution, and psychoactive snuffs of the Amazon, respectively.) I think there is a lot of visionary art nowadays that is visually and technically impressive, but lacks much meaning.
For me, content is always most important, as I believe the purpose of art is to give the viewer a lot to think about.
What do you think of the world we live in ?
I think we’re all a bunch of monkeys trying to evolve before we blow ourselves up, myself included. Sometimes the world can be a scary place and it can feel like there’s nothing we can do as individuals to create real change. I used to worry about the big picture a lot more, but these days I try not to focus too much on the negative aspects of humanity.
I try my best to be a good person, respect other people and the planet, and leave a light footprint. Overall, this world is an incredible place, with so much opportunity to create the life you want. I’m grateful to be alive in this exciting time and space, and I guess without the negative aspects of the world, the positive ones wouldn’t feel so good.
If you had one message that you could give people, what would it be?
Follow your bliss! You don’t want any regrets on your deathbed, so don’t waste any time with finding out what makes you happy, and pursuing that everyday.
Do you think art helps in raising or changing the consciousness/perspective of a person viewing it, do elaborate?
Of course, that’s the whole point. Art should be a catalyst for thought, emotions, and feelings in the viewer. There should be a lot of subjective meaning for the viewer, and each person will have a unique experience with any given piece. Since consciousness is essentially thoughts, then a successful work of art can certainly raise consciousness.
Even though I believe that to be true, it isn’t really my goal. To be honest, it’s a pretty selfish endeavor for me. It’s just subject matter that I find interesting and want to explore. I don’t spend much time thinking about what it will do for other people.
But I do find it incredibly flattering when someone reaches out and lets me know that my art has an impact on their life. That feels really good when something I have created has benefited someone’s life and helped change their perspective.
We do hope you enjoyed this interview if you would like to check out some more visionary artists, head over to our Artwork section.