The Blow By BlowBy Jasen T. Davis
Fernando de La Rocque is a controversial visual artist who makes illustrations by painting with cannabis smoke. “I blow marijuana smoke though a stencil onto very high-quality paper,” he says. The particles are absorbed by the paper, resulting in deceptively simple-looking, golden-hued designs that are as controversial as they are beautiful.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives and works today, de La Rocque has used his innovative technique to create art that draws attention to the status of cannabis in his country, where the plant is still outlawed by the government. “Honest people are being seen and treated as criminals by the society because marijuana is against the law,” he says.
The artist is pleased that his work is helping the cannabis legalization movement in Brazil. “Marijuana users are put in the same [category] as criminals, but for the most part people who use it are family people . . . productive, good people, good professionals that pay for their own grass with the money [from] their work,” de La Rocque says.
He says his artistic explorations began when he was young. “Since I was a kid I used to play more with materials than with toys,” he says. When he was 15, the artist found a Mad magazine interactive puzzle that required readers to blow tobacco smoke onto the paper to test their lungs. The young de la Roque tried it, and noticed that the results had potential as the paper changed colors with each puff. “I adapted the technique using a joint,” he says.
The artist eventually graduated with a degree in sculpture from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where he also works as a teacher. He is
currently represented by the Artur Fidalgo gallery in Copacabana, where many of his smoke paintings have sold for the equivalent of thousands of American dollars. Each painting takes several hours to finish and requires as many as five joints’ worth of smoke to complete.
Rocque’s latest art exhibition is called “Blow Job – Work of Blowing,” currently on display at the La Cucaracha gallery in Rio. “The name plays with provocative words to call attention to the technique I created,” he says. The illustrations are all of religious and political icons, including one of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who smoked plenty of cannabis throughout his athletic career, and another of Pope Benedict XVI, who declared that cannabis smoking was a sin.
This combination makes each illustration a study in controversy. The act of risking arrest each time—using an illegal substance to create art—underlines the sentiments de La Rocque expresses through his work. While cannabis is still illegal in Brazil, activists are currently working to reform
the system. “There are many people from different areas gathering forces to try legalization in Brazil, following the examples of Amsterdam, California
and now our South American neighbor, Uruguay,” he says.
“I have had so many positive feedback, more than I imagined, and I’ve sold almost all the pieces I’ve made for the exhibition,” he says.
Considering the serious risk he takes each time he creates, his art is certainly worth the reward he’s receiving.
Fernando de La Roque isn’t the first artist to use cannabis for artistic purposes. Pittsburgh tattoo artist Cliff Maynard opts for a similar style—using the ends of mostly-smoked joints (some call them “roaches). He’s made images of Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, John Lennon, Jack Herer and Snoop Dogg (I’m detecting a cannabis-friendly pattern here, hmmmmm . . .). Sort of re-defines the meaning of the term “art supplies.”