Cannabis is a useful tool for those who want to get creative and let loose through uninhibited artistic expression. The High Art 2018 contest is a celebration of cannabis and art. And while it’s the artistic process that counts, it’s also a contest, meaning that only one proud artist gets to claim the title of grand prize winner. This year, that proud artist was Mike Oncley, who didn’t expect to win, but was thrilled when he did.
Oncley’s winning piece Onjha, some have interpreted, is a subtle hat-tip to the political division that dominates American culture today, with the image of someone looking through a red and blue lens. CULTURE talked to Oncley about the victory and how his love of cannabis has played a role in his ongoing pursuit of art.
How did you find out about the High Art 2018 contest, and what prompted you to enter?
I actually ran into Natural Cannabis Company’s ad on Instagram promoting the contest. I don’t enter a lot of contests but really appreciated the rules for entering this one—no tagging 10 friends, no community voting—it was really a call for talent over the popularity contests you see most often on social media.
Did you think you would win? How big of a surprise was it to you?
I absolutely thought I would not win. I saw that Juxtapoz Magazine was a part of the contest and knew people would be putting their best work forward. This was my first time hearing of this fifth annual contest, and I felt like a newcomer. So, after submitting, I just tried to forget about it. Come 420, I was flipping through social media when I got the notice from Natural Cannabis Company that I had won first place and was wildly surprised! It was an amazing feeling.
Why do you think the contest is important?
This contest was a great way to gather like-minded artists, all who use cannabis in some shape or form in their life and art. I think creating art surrounding cannabis only helps to normalize it and express the creative community’s acceptance of this plant.
How do you choose to work cannabis into your art as a theme?
I am actually fortunate enough to have a wonderful cannabis photographer as my fiancé, so it was through her beautiful imagery that I was able to create my piece. Her photo was my direct reference as I pasted magazine clippings and painted the portrait image.
“Cannabis has always been a way for me to help defragment my brain a little bit, bringing me focus when thoughts can start to get overwhelming.”
How did you first discover cannabis, and why is it important to your art and your personal life?
Oh wow, I’d have to say it was first discovered on a lifeguard tower in Belmont Shore, [California] through an apple pipe in 2006. Cannabis has always been a way for me to help defragment my brain a little bit, bringing me focus when thoughts can start to get overwhelming. It’s a therapeutic experience to have a quick smoke and sit down with some magazine clippings and Mod Podge.
How do you feel about legalization so far in the U.S.?
So far, legalization is on the right track, with a long way to go. Individual legalized states provide great examples to show congress that people can consume responsibly and that cannabis is more of a solution than a problem, especially with the current opioid crisis hitting America. Although, until cannabis is legalized federally and the people who have been incarcerated for this plant are released, there is more work to be done.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my current style as a beautiful mess. I can’t simply translate an image directly to a painting without losing interest halfway through. I tend to make a problem for myself to solve, like a big smear across the canvas or pasting magazine clippings that only partially fit where I need them, and then have to think, “How can I get my final image recognizable again?”
What can we expect from your art in the future?
It’s hard to say! I always like experimenting with different methods, so the future is still a mystery. I’d say look out for bigger and better portraits from me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think a big thank you to Natural Cannabis Company and Juxtapoz Magazine are in order for organizing such a great contest that included a huge donation to an international non-profit. If you’d like to see more of my work, you can head to my website, HeyOncley.com or find me on social media at the same name.