On Wednesday, May 29th artist Jacob Wheeler will be returning to the historic Jue Lan Club in New York City to showcase his most recent work as a part of the NORML FORML. The unique gala fundraiser celebrates the 50th anniversary of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and represents the official kickoff event for the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBE) NY, one of the largest and longest-running cannabis industry trade shows in the United States. This year, Honeysuckle is a proud media sponsor of both CWCBE NY, speaking there on hemp and the media, and the NORML FORML. So before you dive into the highs of #CannabisWeek, discover the meaning behind the art with Staff Editor Jessica Bern.
Jacob’s unique approach to his art is the way in which he conveys the themes of sensuality, loss, and renewal of the mind and body. He accomplishes this through his layering of the written word on the skin of his models to share messages garnered from the many poems he writes to help him cope not only with his mental illness but as a way to make sense of the world around him.
His present collection was created to shine a light on the positive role cannabis can have on our health as well as on the opioid crisis, and how the plant can help those who are addicted overcome their deadly habit.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Jacob and his manager, Frederico Polsinelli, to find out where he found the inspiration to tackle this particular subject matter.
JESSICA BERN: Your last collection spoke to mental illness, which has affected you personally. Have you tried any of the CBD products to help wean you off any of the medications you take now?
JACOB WHEELER: I have not. I have a close friend who stopped taking his meds for [a] mental condition he has and started using cannabis instead, and it has benefited him greatly. I also have heard other stories of people with anxiety who have had success in using it to relieve their symptoms. Myself, I am on a very high dose of prescription meds. If they are not taken, things could get pretty awful for me, pretty quickly. I admit I am more cautious as a result. My goal would be to find a more organic replacement, but I need to be sure it would work the exact same way. It’s hard to jump in and experiment with something because someone told you what you need. It can be dangerous. My plan is to continue to do my research, speak to people who genuinely understand stuff, and then try it when I know I can be monitored and the result is foolproof.
Do you personally know anyone who has died or suffered from an opioid addiction?
JACOB: There was a guy I knew: he was in [his] late 20s at that time; he was headed home very late one night, high on opioids. At one point, he passed out behind the wheel, drove into a brick home, and died. When I was in my early 30s, I started to see that this wasn’t a random thing and what he and many people lacked was support, a foundation to turn to when they needed it the most. At the time I didn’t know this was going on, that it was such a huge problem. Looking back, I feel bad, because with the knowledge that is out there now, maybe it could have been prevented.
In your pictures the word “unchained” is written on the face of the model. What does that reference?
JACOB: My poetry is written in code. When I write, it is not with the intention for anyone else to see it. I do it for myself. I often use my poetry as a jumping-off point for my work. For this collection, I found phrases and words that fit my emotions and thoughts on this subject. At one point I wanted to put a whole sentence on her [the model], but while we were shooting, I decided to just use the word “unchained” because I felt like it encapsulated the entire meaning of the message I was trying to get across.
What is the message?
JACOB: It is to help raise awareness of the medical benefits of CBD [and] that although it’s important to listen to your doctor, it’s [also] important to explore all aspects of wellness, to be open to a variety of sources of healing. A big reason the epidemic even started is because people were taking their doctors at their word when they were told, “Here, take this opioid and you will feel better.” So people went home and did that and the next thing you know, tens of thousands of people are addicted and dying.
I’m not saying not to listen to your doctor, but I think it’s important to do the research, to hear other points of view, and see what else can help that is more organic in nature. Since I have seen how much cannabis and CBD have positively affected addicts and people with other diseases, I wanted to contribute, to get the message out there in the best way I knew how, which is through my art. Even after I finished, when I stepped back and looked at the photos along with some of my friends, I was inspired to learn even more because of their reactions.
FREDERICO POLSINELLI: We need to get [the] word out and because of the way people react to Jacob’s art, we thought it would be a good way to tell the story. Thing is, sometimes you need to shock people into thinking about things because that awareness is so important. Day after day, there is yet another headline about the opioid crisis and death rates are out of control. As a community, we are watching all this happen around us and what so many people don’t get it is how much cannabis can help combat this epidemic because it can replace the need for painkillers.
Another big symbol in your work is the apple. Care to explain?
JACOB: It’s twofold, actually. When I was growing up, I would go to parties and watch my takes make great use out of an apple…
JACOB: (Laughing) Yes, and as you can see in one of my pieces, an ode to the adage “An apple a day…” which applies to the medicinal and healing qualities of cannabis.
See Jacob Wheeler’s art live at the NORML FORML on May 29, 2019 at the Jue Lan Club at 7PM. For tickets, click on the Eventbrite link and use code HoneysuckleMagazine for 10% off your total.
The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE) runs in New York May 29-June 1, 2019 at the Jacob Javits Center. For tickets and more information, visit cwcbexpo.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Use code HONEYS19 for a 10% discount on a 3-Day Seminar Pass – and come visit us at Booth 680!
Jessica Bern is a Staff Editor for Honeysuckle Magazine. Her writing has appeared on Cafe Mom, SheKnows, and The Woolfer, among others. She is also a voiceover artist, producer, and video editor. bernthis.com