Entering The Chambers Project / Experiencing the Godfathers Show

High Times
Tue, Apr 2

Brian Chambers takes dealing seriously. From humble beginnings flipping packs, to amassing one of the most impressive modern art collections in the world, Chambers has gone from a successful stoner to one of the driving forces in visionary art in under two decades. His latest effort, the Chambers Project, is an 8,000 square foot gallery and community center located about an hour northeast of Sacramento, and it is nothing short of spectacular. 

Throughout his lifetime, Brian has amassed a collection of over 300 awe-inspiring works that will not only amaze, but often have you questioning how they were made with human hands. This includes pieces from renowned surrealist pioneer Salvador Dali, and arguably the most well known visionary artist of modern times, Alex Grey, as well as countless others. He opened the Chambers Project in 2021 with the intent of becoming the global home for the psychedelic art movement, and sharing his collection with the world. In less than three years they have already hosted several impressive and important shows to promote the genre, including events where furtherrr and other artists and collectives paint their epics live.

But Chambers isn’t just building a home to show off his art, he has been recruiting some of the brightest talents in the realm to actually take part in his community. An early collector of today’s movement-leaders like Mars-1, Oliver Vernon, and more, his affinity turned into a career with the growth of many of these artists’ visibility and price. Now, years later, what’s developed is a burgeoning art haven, attracting some of the most unbelievable talents of our time to not only share their work, but to live amongst the art.

I’d been hearing rumblings about this space for a while now. First Groovy called to tell me it was something special. Then I heard from John, a friend from my past event life who worked with COSM. Then I started hearing from my non-art friends – and they all said it was magic. So, at the beginning of last month, I ventured up to Grass Valley for the opening of the gallery’s latest, and most impressive show to date, the Godfathers.

When I say impressive, what Brian pulled off with this one was an almost impossible feat. Comprised primarily of some of the most well known works from psychedelic icons Ralph Steadman, Rick Griffin, and Roger Dean – many of which were hid from the world in private collections until now – the show also included several pieces from Hunter S. Thompson, as well as Jacaeber Kastor, the proprietor of New York City’s ‘Psychedelic Solution’. 

Before you even enter the gallery you could tell that this one was special. You can see two of the show’s most identifiable pieces, Ralph Steadman’s cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as well as the original Dr. Gonzo image, clearly visible from outside the front door, alongside the smallest of several bronze Gonzo statues you’ll see inside the venue. Upon entering, Roger Dean’s idyllic, utopian paintings, including some of his work for the legendary psychedelic rock group YES, immediately capture your attention, and teleport you into a dream-like state. Perhaps as an illustration of the show’s juxtaposition, the next art you get into is some of Ralph Steadman’s most absurdist, and sometimes grotesque works. While this is where some of the most famous of Steadman’s pieces are included, there was a surprising number of works that I’d never seen before – or noticed the complexity and hilarity hidden in the details of. The main room is rounded out with Rick Griffin’s paintings and iconic show posters, including the original Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead flyer drawings, and a sculpture of his flying eyeball. I know I’ve said iconic like twenty times already, but this is like walking into a room filled with relics of psychedelia that we’ve all seen for decades – that we grew up with – and it’s all the originals. 

Deeper into the gallery you’ll find Jacaeber’s work, along with a more heady piece Rick Griffin did during the opening show at the Psychedelic Solution, and a collection of flyers from shows held at his venue over the years. Several of Steadman’s pieces from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail are in this room, depicting Nixon looking particularly deplorable, as well as one of the original Rolling Stone issues from ’73 covering the Watergate scandal. The bathroom is adorned with handwritten notes from Hunter S. Thompson, including a reminder to himself that it’s the blow that’s causing his stuffy nose. The piece Steadman did to commemorate his passing, fist cannon & all, is up in the shop, along with some of his other doodles of Hunter. It’s a trip, to say the least.

Also in attendance for the opening were incredible talents like Mars-1, Colin Prahl, and Justin Lovato, some of whom had art up in the adjacent room, as well as famed blotter art collector Mark McCloud.

Upon reflecting on the magnitude of this show, I was brought back to a statement Jacaeber mentioned during the panel introducing the show. He pointed out that one significant aspect of the show was that it illustrated the power of personal choice; how Chambers’ selections connected a vast and not often similar world. 

“What ties the various artists in the show together?” Jacaeber asks, “I am not sure what links them other than perhaps a shared experience, possibly psychedelics at some point, but I think what’s the most significant is that they are important influences of Brian’s. And I think what it really comes down to is our own taste… There’s a wide world of art that owes something to the psychedelic experience and I think that’s my basic definition of psychedelic art is art that owes something to the psychedelic experience. Simple as that.”

“It’s not necessarily about it.” Jacaeber continues, “I think a lot of people that do psychedelic art probably wouldn’t call themselves ‘psychedelic artists’, probably. It’s a demo to them, quite possibly. And the whole category in itself is kind of a creation, as most categories are. And why not make it a category? But what really ties it together is that Brian feels these are influential people to him… he could have picked a number of different artists, and it would have been probably just as good a show, but I think there’s some extremely significant and amazing art in the room… It’s a myriad of possibilities. And I think to me what this show means is that these were particular artists that really influenced Brian. And Brian had the inspiration to do a show based on the people that really inspired him. And I think that’s important because it’s really what you like, and there’s a 360 degree sphere of art and different types of approaches, and it’s personal, what you like and what you choose to show or what you choose to look at, or what floats your boat.”

In reflecting on this I realized how personally moving I found the show myself, and for my own tastes. From Jacaeber’s New York City connection, to seeing the original artwork from albums and bands my father had me listening to since I was a child, to seeing the individual elements of one of the most important (and entertaining) pieces of psychedelic art, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in person, which, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched since I was a teen. Then I got stoned and remembered we all have these unique personal connections to these artists, and that while I am not special in connecting with these works, the fact that all of these people from all different walks of life showed up here to enjoy their majesty… that surely is.

“I have been collecting art for 30 years, and curating shows for 20, and this one is without a doubt the most personal, but also the most historically significant exhibition I’ve ever put together.” Brian told me, “Much of my life was spent as an outlaw so these works from pivotal moments of the counterculture have been a foundational part of my story and taste but also for countless others around the world. As psychedelics have [begun to be] destigmatized and gain social and medical acceptance so too has the lens by which the public views and perceives this genre and its value and merit within art history. Many outlaws of the past are now leaders of industry in a quickly changing world that celebrates what was once underground and illegal, and this has seen psychedelic art get mainstream attention – moving into the blue chip arena. It is definitely a high and exciting time in the world of all things psychedelia and I am honored to be a part of it’s building legacy while sharing these masterworks with the world in the context they have long deserved.”

Coming from a guy who goes to a lot of art shows, this was without question one of the most impressive shows I’ve been to if for no other reason than it may never be seen again. If you can make the trip, it’s a can’t miss.

The Chambers Project is located at 627 E. Main St. in Grass Valley, California. You can visit them online at thechambersproject.com.