THERE’S A GUY in San Francisco who has more than 33,000 sheets of LSD in his house. Just how many more isn’t clear, because no one’s done an inventory since the feds last tried to bust him 13 years ago. What is clear is that because each sheet, or “blotter,” can be perforated into hundreds of little acid-imbued tabs, this guy, Mark McCloud, has amassed several million hits of LSD over the years. He doesn’t collect these tabs to sell them. He collects these SIM-card-sized artifacts because, weirdly enough, they’re tiny works of art.
McCloud calls his house the Institute of Illegal Images. Scan the Institute’s collection—a fraction of which is published on its website, Blotter Barn—and you’ll find a wide-ranging spectrum of art that McCloud’s been collecting since the 1970s. There’s some predictable new age iconography (like dolphins and zodiac caricatures) and some equally predictable goofiness (think pre-Emoji smiley faces and Mickey Mouse in his sorcerer’s apprentice garb). These icons often appear hundreds of times on a single blotter, so when the sheet is perforated into individual hits, each tab features the same little decal—a calling card for the dealer who sold it.
There’s also some truly exquisite artwork in McCloud’s collection. These pieces of paper were vehicles for going on psychotropic trips, making them about as ephemeral as art can get, but blotter artists still took great care in crafting the images. “When I first noticed the blotter prints, I said, ‘Boy, this is fascinating, and maybe I should try to collect some of these so our children know what happened to us,’” McCloud says.
One thing that “happened” to McCloud was a near-fatal accident. On December 9, 1971—he rattles off the date in a way that suggests it’s indelibly etched into to his brain—he fell out of a window. He was tripping at the time, and says it saved his life. “I was on LSD when I had my death-rebirth experience. It would have just been a death experience without the LSD, for sure,” he says. “That’s a recurring theme in LSD. A lot of people think they would have died when they had an accident [without the LSD].” It’s a little like saying you read Playboy for the articles, but McCloud says his gratitude towards “the Sunshine” (the acid he dropped that night was called “Orange Sunshine”) is partly why he’s collected blotters all these years.