By Sarah E. Fensom
The term “psychedelic” has a surprisingly cute origin story. Psychiatrist Humphry Osmond wrote to his friend-in-a-high-place Aldous Huxley in 1957 seeking a word to use as a reference for hallucinogenic drugs (in the context of psychotherapy, familiar territory for Osmond). Huxley responded in verse: “to make this mundane world sublime/Take half a gram of phanerothyme.” His word, “phanerothyme” was a combination of the Greek words for “manifest” (phaneros) and “spirit” (thumos). However, it was Osmond’s reply that stuck: “To fathom Hell or soar angelic/Just take a pinch of psychedelic (a combo of “soul” (psuche) and “to manifest” (deloun)). The rest is history, with the term soon after being applied to music, art, literature, and a general way of life.
It would be difficult to begin to describe Holton Rower’s large-scale 6ac6g with any other word. The piece—one of a series of the artist’s pour paintings—is a nod to the multi-colored, woozy-looking lettering of ’60s concert posters. However, its wooden surface and faux-cracked edges recall the organic quality of Lynda Benglis’ latex-pour sculptures of the ‘70s.
6ac6g was recently on view at Pace, as a part of the venerable New York gallery’s exhibition “Soft Machines.” The show took its name from the William S. Burroughs novel The Soft Machine (1961), about the effects of control mechanisms on the human body. Each work in the exhibition explored some sort of force—drugs, alcohol, religion, among others—that can move in and take over.
Rower’s piece fits right in, bringing to mind the typical color and shape distortion associated with a drug-induced hallucination (or schizophrenia, think Louis Wain’s crazy cat illustrations), or perhaps it is a hallucination, or may just cause one.