Alex Grey (born November 29, 1953) is an American visionary artist, author, teacher, and Vajrayana practitioner. His body of work spans a variety of forms includingperformance art, process art, installation art, sculpture, visionary art, and painting. Grey is a member of the Integral Institute. He is also on the board of advisors for the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and is the Chair of Wisdom University’s Sacred Art Department. He and his wife Allyson Grey are the co-founders of The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a non-profit church supporting Visionary Culture in Wappingers Falls, New York.
In this episode we spoke to Alex, and his lovely wife Allyson – about their work, creative process, what inspires them and much much more.
The mystic paintings of Alex Grey articulate realms of psychedelic visionary consciousness, revealing interwoven energies of body and soul, love and spirit, illuminating the anatomical core of each being. Alex’s visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness, the subject of his art, have reached millions through his five books, the exhibition and extensive reproduction of his artwork, speaking appearances including a popular TED talk, stage sets for major rock bands, video animation, and Grammy award winning album art.
Allyson Grey, MFA, is a painter, social sculptor, and Alex’s creative collaborator, life partner and studio mate since art school in 1975. Allyson’s paintings essentialize a world view of chaos, order and secret writing: the material world, the interconnected realm of energy and light and the sacred symbols of creativity. Through her blog on art and life, “Ask Allyson, she serves as a muse to artists worldwide.
Together the Grey’s co-founded the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, (CoSM; cosm.org), a spiritual retreat center for artists outside of New York City. On the forefront of a movement in which painters join musicians on stage, the Grey’s have painted together live on Broadway stages and sold-out theaters, clubs and festivals in dozens of international cities across five continents. As long-time advocates of cognitive liberty, a world-wide sacramental culture has embraced the Grey’s as important mapmakers and spokespersons for the visionary realm.
Grey was born Alex Velzy in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 1953, the middle child of a middle-class couple. His father was a graphic designer and encouraged his son’s drawing ability. Young Alex would collect insects and dead animals from the suburban neighborhood and bury them in the back yard. The themes of death and transcendence weave throughout his artworks, from the earliest drawings to later performances, paintings and sculpture. He went to the Columbus College of Art and Design for two years (1971–73), then dropped out and painted billboards in Ohio for a year. Grey then attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for one year, to study with the conceptual artist, Jay Jaroslav.
At the Boston Museum School he met his wife, the artist Allyson Rymland Grey. During this period he had a series of entheogenically induced mystical experiences that transformed his agnostic existentialism to a radical transcendentalism. The couple would trip together on LSD. Alex then spent five years at Harvard Medical School working in the Anatomy department studying the body and preparing cadavers for dissection.
He also worked at Harvard’s department of Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson and Dr. Joan Borysenko, conducting scientific experiments to investigate subtle healing energies. Alex’s anatomical training prepared him for painting the “Sacred Mirrors” (explained below) and for doing medical illustration. When doctors saw his Sacred Mirrors, they asked him to do illustration work. Grey was an instructor in Artistic Anatomy and Figure Sculpture for ten years at New York University, and now teaches courses in Visionary Art with Allyson at The Open Center in New York City; Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado; the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.
Inside the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
In 1972 Grey began a series of art actions that bear resemblance to rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche. The approximately 50 performance rites, conducted over the past 30 years, move through transformations from an egocentric to more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity. The most recent performance was “WorldSpirit”, a spoken word and musical collaboration with Kenji Williams which was released in 2004 as a DVD.
Grey’s unique series of 21 life-sized paintings, the Sacred Mirrors (to be on display at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappinger, New York), takes the viewer on a journey toward their own divine nature by examining, in detail, the body, mind, and spirit. The Sacred Mirrors present the physical and subtle anatomy of an individual in the context of cosmic, biological and technological evolution. Begun in 1979, the series took ten years to complete. During this time Grey developed his depictions of the human body that “x-ray” the multiple layers of reality, and reveal the interplay of anatomical and spiritual forces. After painting the Sacred Mirrors, he applied this multidimensional perspective to such archetypal human experiences as praying, meditation, kissing, copulating, pregnancy, birth, nursing and dying. More recent work explores the subject of consciousness from the perspective of “universal beings” whose bodies are grids of fire, eyes and infinite galactic swirls.
A visitor appreciates a piece of art.
Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times wrote in 2002, “Alex Grey’s art, with its New Age symbolism and medical-illustration finesse, might be described as psychedelic realism, a kind of clinical approach to cosmic consciousness. In it, the human figure is rendered transparently with X-ray or CAT-scan eyes, the way Aldous Huxley saw a leaf when he was on mescaline. Every bone, organ and vein is detailed in refulgent color; objects and space are knitted together in dense, decorative linear webs.”  Grey’s paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of Tool, The String Cheese Incident, Meshuggah, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, Newsweek magazine, the Discovery Channel, Rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including Feature Inc., Tibet House, Stux Gallery, P.S. 1, The Outsider Art Fair and the New Museum in NYC, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Grey has been a keynote speaker at conferences worldwide including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus. The international psychedelic community has embraced Grey as an important “mapmaker” and spokesman for the visionary realm. In his compendium of psychedelic culture, Psychedelia (2012), Patrick Lundborg speaks of Grey’s position: “First of all, Visionary Art would not be the active, promising field it is today without the appearance of Alex Grey on the scene. Born 1953, Alex Grey is the leading psychedelic artist of today, and also one of the foremost proponents of Visionary Art as a style. Via interviews, his own writings and the CoSM art journal, Grey has contributed to a historical perspective on the school…”
A large installation called Heart Net by Alex and his wife was displayed at Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum in 1998-99. A mid-career retrospective of Grey’s works was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 1999. The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, a long-term exhibition of 50 works of transformative art by Grey opened in the Fall of 2004 in New York City and relocated to its present Hudson Valley location in 2009.
In this episode with Alex and Allyson Grey, you will learn:
About their creative process.
What inspires them
How they see global consciousness, individual evolution and how they view mystical experiences.
How they began a collaboration with world-famous band TOOL and how “Net of Being” became one of the most prolific cover art images in the world.