The coin collector in McCloud looks upon the fancy blotters as a quasi-currency for the underground, a medium of exchange that is as anarchistic as it is karmically balanced. (There's a commemorative quality to blotter, too. One sample in McCloud's show depicts Albert Hofmann, "Father of LSD.") Indeed, great quantities of genuine currency change hands in the LSD trade, but the margins are enough to make the average cocaine dealer wince. According to the DEA, the wholesale price of LSD in San Francisco ranges between 40 cents and $1 per hit based on transactions of 1,000 hits, and the retail price ranges from $1 to $5. Back in 1978, LSD traded for $1 to $3 a hit, which means that adjusted for inflation the price of LSD has actually dropped in the last 17 years.
In a world filled with signs and burgeoning with pharmaceutical newcomers, blotter endures, providing the promotional punch of Madison Avenue and the mystery of the cabala. Because the quality and quantity of the acid is unknown prior to consumption, the artwork serves as a promise (sometimes broken) of the trip to come while simultaneously conveying the designers' sense of fun and wonder, their devotion to an underground and outlaw culture, and the universality of religious hunger.
As Carlo McCormick writes in the notes accompanying McCloud's first exhibit, "The knowledge that the paper is dosed cannot but affect how one looks at the picture. Even odder, however, is that the picture has a way of influencing one's notion of the acid. So mighty is the power of suggestion here that it seems to signify some secret knowledge or expectation of the trip, as if the ink could predict, direct, or code one's experience."
In the cosmic clown vs. the inner truth debate, McCloud comes down decidedly on the inner-truth side.
"The pope has been passing blanks for years; this collection represents the return of the host to the people," he says. The anonymous makers adorn, garnish, and embellish their product for spiritual reasons, he adds.
"They're going the extra mile because of the substance itself. The material demands that sort of excellence," McCloud says.
Acknowledging that excellence while maybe not fully appreciating it is the DEA chemist back East who examines LSD samples from all over the world.
"In the last year we've seen the return of very psychedelic, arty, and colorful designs," a law enforcement official says. "One recent exhibit from San Francisco depicted the crucifixion of Christ in full color. You could put it in a gallery."
Exactly McCloud's point.
"LSD Blotter Paper Art" runs through Oct. 10 at the Artrock Gallery, 1153 Mission; phone 255-7390 for details.