Living in Squalor for Artistic Freedom

Bryan Saunders has been going viral lately thanks to his series of self-portraits done under the influence of a wide variety of drugs. Jon Ronson visited the artist at his home in Johnson City, Tenn. (and was the first reporter to do so), to see how Saunders does what he does. Saunders makes art by living in a small apartment in a housing project, which he uses as his art studio, and pays $18 a month:

“But I like it there,” Bryan says. “It’s my favourite place I’ve ever lived. People I know from Johnson City think I’m insane for living there and liking it. But if I lived in New York I’d have to pay $1,000 or $2,000 dollars a month, I’d need a job that would take all my energy, I’d be forced to socialise, to go to all those art openings, and all that junk, and I would never get any of my art projects done. So I would rather live here in squalor for next to nothing. It gives me all kinds of freedom.”

It’s not exactly the most horrible place imaginable (there’s a video of Saunders’s apartment at the top of the Guardian piece), but there is a maddening loudspeaker system that shouts something at the tenants every few hours. His living situation also helps him because his neighbors often give him drugs to use for his art, which will be displayed alongside art by Damien Hirst at a gallery in Paris next year. Good for Saunders for figuring out how to work on his art without having to spend a lot on living expenses, but I look back on my early days of living in cheap apartments with mice and roaches running around, and am happy to have been able to say goodbye to all that.