"High and Outside: Street Beggars Take an Opium Break"
Also known as "Informal Portrait of the Artist's Parents", and sometimes as "Mommy and Poppy Help Daddy Get Off", this painting has all the hallmarks of a classic Venable: a narrow range of pigments, lack of strong contrasts, the focus on facial expressions and a fascination with controlled substances. Like some of his other well-known compositions — "Girl Scouts with Hash Brownies"; "Still Life with Syringe and Archbishop"; and "Button, Button, Who's Got the Peyote Button" — the subject work accentuates the euphoric aspect of recreational drugs without any trace of a moralistic tone.
The artist freely admitted that most of his paintings were done under the influence of one drug or another. In his biography, Pigments of My Imagination, he discusses the pros and cons of working this way: "Very few pros do it, and those who do often wind up as cons." Venable himself was no stranger to incarceration, having done 10 years for supplying hashish to a Girl Scout and 18 months for possession of Cadmium Red by a felon. He met an untimely end during this last sentence when he was stabbed to death during an art therapy session by an inmate who had fashioned a palette knife from a toothbrush.