Artist, activist and community builder Trew Love believes that confronting some of the most vexing issues in our world should involve art, community, and layers of sweetness and fun. A primary element of the success of cannabis reform has been an increase in awareness of some of the systemic, communal and individual issues that exist as a result of cannabis prohibition and the Drug War. While there are, and should be, opportunities to enjoy the success of the movement, many of us are aware that there is still much work to be done to restore a baseline of justice and accountability to the American system. Topics like mass incarceration and systemic racism, which still affect too many cannabis users, are not generally enjoyable topics to confront in every setting. Trew (@trewlove) is establishing creative platforms that break through the social and educational barriers that often stifle important conversations about difficult topics.
Based in Los Angeles, where she has lived since moving from Kansas in 2010, Trew Love has been artistically inclined and encouraged since earliest youth. “My mom is an art teacher so she started nurturing my artistic abilities at a very young age and I was able to really develop my craft.” A late bloomer when it comes to weed, she didn’t fully embrace the benefits and LA tradition of lighting up until 2014. “I got into smoking weed with my boyfriend at the time. He was a daily smoker so it became a part of my routine as well.” Her creative inspiration didn’t really start clicking, however, until she began combining her artistic ability with the political and social landscape around her. “It wasn’t until I got into activism that I really felt that I had something to say to the world.”
Her course, personally and creatively, was fundamentally reoriented as she followed the battle at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota in 2016. When the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) planned to run oil lines that threatened the water supply of over 17 million people, a protest movement began, led primarily by Standing Rock Sioux and other area native teenagers and elders. The protest spread, with the viral hashtag #NoDAPL and rallying cry of ‘Mni Wiconi/Water is Life’ eventually reaching the United Nations and President Obama, who eventually halted construction after public outrage over police violence and brutality towards protestors. Though President Trump almost immediately reversed that decision after taking office, and construction was completed in 2017, the Standing Rock movement’s success changed local and national conversations and activist tactics, including for Trew. “I learned that a small group of people that are strategic with their directives and use of energy can have an impact on the realities of millions of people.”
Soon after, in 2017, she began working with campaigns like Divest LA, a campaign to divest public funds from large banks such as Wells Fargo, who support things like DAPL and war. During that period, she became aware of some specific barriers that routinely keep people from committing to causes that are important or relevant to them. One is the political lethargy that has increasingly become the status quo, particularly among young folks. “A lot of people who do see what’s going on and care don’t know what to do about it, or feel powerless to engage.” Another is lack of awareness and education; “People can’t care if they don’t know.” She saw an opportunity to address both through art and community, and conceived Sugarcoated, an art exhibit that incorporates candy and sugar imagery into a pop art aesthetic that spotlights injustice. “What I wanted to do is create a collection where, when you look in the gallery window you see neons and candy and fun, but then when you walk in and start reading the descriptions, you actually get hammered with a dose of reality, but in the sweetest way possible.”
The first Sugar Coated pop-up ran from September 12 to October 5, 2019 in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles. Controversial and sensitive topics covered include the continued epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, the ‘Me Too’ movement, America’s obsession with brand culture, and the military-industrial complex. The overall theme was represented by tongue in cheek cartoon pieces like “Overpopcornated Jail Cells” which addresses the modern slavery that has resulted from mass incarceration.
“The goal is to inspire real, honest conversations – which is ultimately the basis of legitimate community, and simultaneously provide resources on how to get active in solutions locally.” She explains; “It was truly incredible to witness some of the conversations that started as a result of some of the pieces at the show” Rather than the sort of pop culture escapism that avoids directly confronting difficult or controversial realities, Sugar Coated is, according to Love, “An escape back into the reality of our own power.”
While searching for a venue for the Sugar Coated debut, the cannabis element of Trew Love’s work was inspired. A friend in the industry generously provided her with unused grow space of his for the show, and in their conversations, she learned more through him about the social justice issues that intersect with cannabis, and was convinced of the socially curative potential of the cannabis business community. “That was when I learned about the versatility of hemp in regards to plastics, building materials, carbon sequestration, soil regeneration, the durability of cannabis made material, and the ability to use biomass waste and convert it into sustainable products such as fabrics. When I learned all of this, it was clear to me that this is an industry that could truly repair the damage done by countless past and current industries, and that I had to get involved with ensuring that healing is a part of the industry‘s code of ethics, not just a convenient side effect of yet another purely profit driven marketplace.” That education and realization led to Cannabis Cures, a panel discussion held at the Sugar Coated exhibition among business community members based on how they and the larger cannabis business community are working to strengthen communities and heal the environment. Panelists included Kristen Lovell from the Social Impact Center who drew attention to the lack of properly distributed social equity funding, and Vanessa Rodrigues from 99 High Tide, a female run operation in Malibu who do weekly communal beach clean-ups, along with other representatives of cannabis business.
Initially just a successful panel, Trew Love is spinning Cannabis Cures off into an independent and open-sourced event series and media platform for members of the cannabis business community to raise and continue discussions about issues directly affecting users and entrepreneurs. She is also launching a podcast to keep the conversations going. “The goal (with both Sugarcoated and Cannabis Cures) is to continue educating people through fun events and direct community building. With Cannabis Cures I hope to build a national community of people who – individually and as a community – are choosing to elevate their practices with cannabis, both in use and within the industry. First by doing no harm to the world around us, but then also working to reverse some of the harm that’s been done.”
Another of Trew’s realizations was that by staggering specifically curated events, a more relaxed and natural form of community building could take over. “During the exhibit we wanted to bring different people and demographics to the show, and then by creating a fun environment that people want to come back to, you start integrating different communities into a larger whole.” Trew Love looks forward to incorporating that experience into her plans for the future of Sugar Coated.
In the coming year, Trew and crew plan to take Sugar Coated on a national tour that will include SXSW, Kansas City and New York City, and culminate with a showing at Art Basel in Miami in December 2020. “It’s a big quest,” she says, “but one that I believe will be very well enjoyed.”
Besides the national Sugar Coated tour and Cannabis Cures podcast, Trew Love’s creative plans for the future remain thematic toward community, activism and fun. Included are producing “Rhyme and Reeson” an adult animated comedy show tied to cannabis and social justice, and her most ambitious collaborative undertaking to date; The LA City Angels Project. Her goal is to community source 14 building sized murals of angels; one in each of the cities 14 Assembly Districts, working with the assembly person for each to map an interactive historic and contemporary educational tour that spans the entirety of her beloved adopted hometown.
Notable fans of her unique hybrid of art and activism so far include actress and activist Rosario Dawson, who bought Trew Love’s piece “PBnJ” at an auction supporting Yes on B – a measure in support of creating a municipal public bank in LA. Restructuring the predatory national and global banking system is another passion for Trew Love, who worked with Public Bank LA and celebrated with other ethical finance activists when the Public Banking Act (A.B. 857) was signed into California law by Governor Gavin Newsom in early October, 2019.
The success of the public banking measure, and the positive response in the cannabis and art community to her mediums of expression have her convinced she’s on the right track to building communities that heal and grow in every conceivable way. “I think a lot of the connection we seek and isolation that we feel, is healed by becoming active in a solution that you care about. A lot of that anxiety and fear and discontent, it disappears once you start participating in something greater than yourself. And if I can inspire that somehow and create a place where people can find that, then I have done my job well.”
Artist Spotlight: Mohan Sundaresan
Author: Braelee Conticchio
As I walked into the back yard of his adorable La Jolla home, the garage side door swung open with a sizable cloud of cannabis smoke and out walked Mohan. With a smile bigger than the pacific ocean and joy pouring out of him before he even said anything, I could feel this was going to be an incredible experience. I was lucky enough to spend the next hour or so learning more about Mohan, his unique cannabis fine art and much, much more.
Mohan was born in Bangalore, a very large city in India, where he lived with his family, including three older siblings. He shared fond memories of his childhood, playing outside and creating toys out of sticks, stones, and anything else he could find. Although they did not have much materialistically, Mohan used his imagination and creativity to enjoy natural beauty in life. Since, Mohan has lived in Austria, London and settled in San Diego in 1989.
I quickly learned of Mohan’s love of literature and music as he quoted poems, songs by Kris Kristofferson and Don McLean and even shared some original quotes. Along with using cannabis to open his mind, Mohan stressed the importance of “always try to be as much as me as possible” during the process of creating his fine cannabis art. Most of the time he finds inspiration in nature, on walks with his 14-year-old dog Dizzy the dachshund, in gardens, landscapes, clouds, and stars. “A child in bewilderment” is how he described himself captivated by mother nature. He’s a dreamer who believes we are all one, joined by our souls.
Mohan likes to work at his own pace when creating, the spontaneity is an important part of getting lost in his art. He also happily welcomes problems during the process as they make the outcome better in his experience. His average piece is about 3 feet long and 4 feet tall in size and takes about 4-5 weeks to complete. The best way to explain his process? Doing something that makes no sense.
He always includes a dark and a light aspect to his art, representing the yin and the yang. Quite literally, sometimes he even switches out the lights in his studio to intensify his technique. Mohan uses hemp and aluminum materials but has also used wood, other metals, acrylic and more. The process starts with two hand-painted canvases of the same size. This is where the yin and yang come in, Mohan often likes to incorporate a dark and a light, two paintings that are almost opposite. However, he told me “How am I to dictate which color to use, I just let whatever happens happens”. The process continues once the paintings are dry and he is able to cut both into strips and shapes. He then takes the cutouts and from the center out, weaves them together to create one intertwined piece. Once finished and glued down, a cannabis leaf is added to the center and voila: fine cannabis leaf art!
Not only does using cannabis help open Mohan’s mind to let inspirations in and ideas to flow out, but he also explained it alleviates stress and allows him to fully enjoy his life and craft. He’s been using medicinal cannabis for years now and it has even helped him stop consuming alcohol. We laughed as he told me someone once asked how much cannabis he uses and he responded with “Do I ask how many cups of coffee a day you drink? If you must inquire its about 33 tablespoons”. But we both agreed, who is to judge!
Mohan does not create his art for money, the process and creating alone fulfills his life and creates immeasurable happiness. He explained that we all have a purpose and meaning inside of us, we have to find it and understand it. He told me most people are always trying to climb up the ladder, trying to get higher but the real secret is to climb down and see what’s supporting the ladder, what it’s standing on. When you unleash your inner self, it’s easy and clear to see what you’re meant to do. The art and insight shared by Mohan are some that I’ll never forget.
Along with art, Mohan is very passionate about giving back. He expressed to me that global change is in the hands of generations to come but in the meantime, all of us need to do whatever we are capable of to help. Mohan has not only donated one of his pieces to The Last Prisoner Project but was also generous enough to donate a gorgeous piece to us for our Heroes’ Harvest charity event for veterans this past December. Mohan explained to me the importance of “doing” good not just speaking of it, the only way to make real change is to get out there and do it!
And I would like to leave you with one of my favorite original Mohan quotes “We are all born stars covered in skin, but the light we seek can only come from within”.
For more info contact: Steve Medoff
Artist Profile: Brooklyn’s ‘Poetic Thrust’ Talk Live Shows, Collaborative Energy, Cannabis
On a recent evening out exploring the nightlife on Broadway in formerly industrial South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I was fortunate enough to wander into the right bar at the right moment and get an astounding sensorial introduction to the talent and energy of Poetic Thrust, a seven member Brooklyn based musical group featuring two MC’s and a full brass section. They describe themselves as a ‘7-piece self-care cult’ who ‘chisel down our ideas, sculpted from experience’ and ‘ create through improvisation and live performances that start late and stay later.’
Poetic Thrust dropped their second EP, ‘On Deck’ on November 13th, 2019, and we got to talk (and smoke) a bit both after the show and in a followup interview, about what inspires them, and where cannabis fits into their lives and work.
NUGL Magazine: Hey PT!! Please lay out a bit about what the band is about and what got you together?
We formed starting from a trio of myself, Juno and Stu that had been about playing some of my electronic compositions live. We were then offered an opportunity to do a residency at a club in Brooklyn working with rappers. We called Nakama, eventually Yoh joined and Nat and Jaedon added in on the horns. Was all improvised until we decided we had to get it on wax. So we did, and 2 years and 2 EP’s later, here we are.
To me the band is about energy convergence. The cultivation of 7 individual energies learning and growing from one another to give life to something fresh.
The band is about free expression, we are open to playing just about anything as long as it SLAPS.
NUGL Magazine: Please give some background and details on what goes into the live show?
Love, trust and energy are what go into the live sets. The channeling of those 7 energies and the hard work each individual has put in, combined with the love for the craft and the trust in each other is what makes the live sets feel more alive and exciting.
When it comes to us performing as a band, I definitely feel that getting on stage with everyone is almost meditative. It feels like everyone is 100% in the moment together, and before all our shows we get a group huddle in and share that positive energy.
Yea, it’s magic ~ we’re 7 people and when that shit is locked it’s like nothing else. It’s exponential.
NUGL Magazine: Tell us about your relationship with cannabis? How those of you that use it got into it, and how you incorporate it into your music or process?
Cannabis is a powerful tool when used appropriately. For me, it’s like taking the filters off of my thoughts. Sometimes it’s a great pressure lifted off your shoulders, sometimes it can be uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing. But I think that the conscious choice to remove those filters is cathartic in a way, like surrendering myself to my own idiosyncrasies and letting my thoughts dance around each other instead of the single-file default I have in my day to day experience.
Cannabis doesn’t create anything new for my mind, rather it helps me access what is already there.
Every time I go home I’m tryna smoke big weed and drive through the (Colorado Rocky) mountains and listen to records. It’s my favorite way to listen to music. I used to like to smoke and play, but I don’t like it anymore. I lose the forest for the trees so to speak. But was definitely fun and the fact is that the time I got serious about music coincided with the time that I started blazing … coincidence or not !!
Being honest, I love incorporating cannabis more into the freestyle elements and recording process. Sometimes I feel like it lets me really cut loose and channel an energy or emotion I might have been thinking about too much, rather than feeling it out.
Cannabis was definitely a huge part of my music development, smoking a jay and diving deep into records, both with friends and alone. I have a lot of great college memories of lighting up and spending hours locked in a room practicing.
In the new EP, which they recorded on wax at Electric Garden studio in Brooklyn, the group builds on their debut release ‘All Water’, bringing their emerging collaborative sound and style full circle. They shout out their creative team, which includes mixer Jaclyn Sanchez, visual designer Maia Benaim, and writer/director Richie Ellis behind the lens of their videos. Along with the 7 band members working in unison to create a unified vision and sound, Poetic Thrust mean it when they say “Our peers and collaborators help us refine this vision. We keep this energy at all times, of growth and communication, of revery and insubordination.”
Keep an eye out for future (and past) artist profiles on NUGL!
Puff, Paint and Pass: Taking Creative Grassroots Community Nationwide
Heidi Keyes, artist, entrepreneur, and founder of Puff, Pass and Paint, incorporated her awareness and belief in the healing creative and social power of cannabis when she launched soon after legalization in Colorado, where she was living and creating, in 2014. “I was working as an artist, and was already very aware of how interconnected making art and cannabis are, because it’s something I’ve always used to help manage anxiety and also tap into my creative side.” With legalization, and the promise of minds opening up to and through cannabis, Heidi saw an opportunity both economic and communal. “Consuming cannabis definitely helps people relax into the present moment, instead of focusing on making a perfect painting and the end result.” An interactive experience that welcomes novices at cannabis and art seemed like the perfect way to open new doors into both cannabis and creative instincts that, for some, had been dormant since childhood. “In our classes, we always ask about the last time the students painted, and a lot of them say that they haven’t made art since they were in grade school. They’re nervous about looking silly or being bad at painting, and cannabis helps to take away that fear. I wanted to bring that level of openness and creativity to people, so they can just enjoy the process of making art and consuming weed legally without judgment.”
As legalization has spread the country, so has Puff, Pass and Paint. They are now in 13 cities nationwide, from Las Vegas to Miami, with another class opening in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the near future. When Nugl spoke to Heidi, she had just arrived in Boston, Massachusetts for an event there, where cannabis was legalized in 2016. “Every city definitely has a different vibe for the classes, and each location also has its own preference for what they like to partake in.” Vibes can also vary by location. “Some classes are more quiet and serious, and some are loud, very smoky, and full of laughter. I like them all! All of our teachers are local artists, and I love seeing how the classes vary from instructor to instructor as well, with their teaching styles and their creativity.”
The social outreach element is also important to Heidi for mainstreaming cannabis use — and making art with strangers — as cannabis reform and access continue to sweep the nation. It’s a principle she also incorporates into her other projects, including group cannabis cooking classes, and Cannabis Tours, which operates in 5 cities and counting. “We believe that normalization is the key to national legalization, which is the main goal here, right?” Heidi believes that combining art and cannabis offers the perfect platform for the diverse experiential opportunities that getting high and making art together offer. “Our students are of all different ages – just 21 plus! – of all different experience levels in both painting and cannabis use, and from varying backgrounds all over the world. We just want to keep bringing people together to celebrate making art and legal cannabis.”