Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Entheogenic Art of Alex Grey (revisited)

entheogen |enˈthēəˌjen; -jən|
noun - a chemical substance, typically of plant origin, that is ingested to produce a nonordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes.

entheogenic |enˌthēəˈjenik| adjective - ORIGIN 1970s: from Greek, literally ‘becoming divine within’; coined by an informal committee studying the inebriants of shamans.

Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 1953 (Sagittarius), the middle child of a gentle 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 (73-74). Grey then attended the Boston Museum School 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 Grey 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 Institute in Boulder, Colorado, the California Institute of Integral Studies and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.

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 fifty performance rites, conducted over the last thirty 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, take 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 a period of ten years to complete.

It was during this period that he 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. Grey’s recent work has explored the subject of consciousness from the perspective of “universal beings” whose bodies are grids of fire, eyes and infinite galactic swirls.

Renowned healers Olga Worral and Rosalyn Bruyere have expressed appreciation for the skillful portrayal of clairvoyant vision his paintings of translucent glowing bodies. Grey's paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of TOOL, SCI, 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. Alex has been a keynote speaker at conferences all over the world including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus. The international psychedelic community has embraced Grey as an important mapmaker and spokesman for the visionary realm.

A large installation called Heart Net by Alex and his wife, Allyson, 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 large format art book, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey has been translated into five languages and has sold over one hundred thousand copies, unusual for an art book. His inspirational book, The Mission of Art, traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, exploring the role of an artist's intention and conscience, and reflecting on the creative process as a spiritual path.

Transfigurations is Alex's second large format monograph containing over 300 color and black & white images of Grey's work. Sounds True has released The Visionary Artist, a CD of Grey's reflections on art as a spiritual practice. ARTmind is the artist's recent video exploring the healing potential of Sacred Art. Grey co-edited the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (Chronicle Books, 2002). The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, a long-term exhibition of fifty works of transformative art by Grey has opened (Fall 2004) in New York City. He lives in New York City with his wife, the painter, Allyson Grey and their daughter, the actress, Zena Grey.

Cosmic Christ
The Alex Grey Guitar

[With special thanks to Melissa Lin for introducing me to Alex Grey! First published 23 December 2008]


Anonymous said...

Dear Antares,

This is absolutely amazing! One can actually write a whole post or more on each of his art work!!! Thank you so much for introducing us to Alex Grey (and thanks to Melissa Lin as well).

You are a storehouse of knowledge and unceasingly open up our minds and perspective to savor and enjoy not just nature, the different realms of existence but also the diversity in the beauty of such wondrous art that goes beyond the our vain imagination and leads us to the spiritual realm of existence!

Thanks...I really enjoyed burst of color and the meanings radiating from these wonderful works.

Have a wonderful festive season and see you soon!!

hugs and much love,

de minimis said...

Bro Antares

This is what I'm talking about! The colours and vision is way out of this world. I can stare at each picture for a long time and just get into it. And, thanks for giving me a new word that I was completely unaware of :D

Anonymous said...

Ooh Antares, I need an inebriant after that post but more on gazing at the explosive anatomically perfect art. Amazing!

redrosesburning said...

this marks my first comment on your blog.
so thrilled with alex grey :)

Starmandala said...

Not so easy to be born Alex Velny to a father who served Death & the God of War in the defense industry... amazing how many shamanic artists (including Jim Morrison, Stephen Stills & Frank Zappa) had fathers who either worked in the Pentagon, Naval Research or Chemical Warfare! Alex Grey is living testimony to the path of genealogical redemption - just as Luke Skywalker redeems Darth Vader :-)

Thanks for such enthusiastic comments, dear friends - so glad you share my excitement & awe at this man's brilliance. And, Mel sweetie, leaving comments in my blog is an excellent cure for virtual shyness ;-) xoxox

Jason Law said... is just so fantastic ! not a simple art. I am not in art but I still enjoy it

de minimis said...

Bro Antares

A Very Merry (and psychedelic) Christmas to you and all your loved ones.

Donplaypuks® said...

Experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs to attain higher consciousness is nothing new.

The ancient Rishis of the Vedas used Soma, Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castenada, Mescaline and Quincy of course flirted with Opium which he called 'unconscious minister of celestial pleasure.'

The question is what is the higher mesaage that Alex Grey has for us. That I would be interested to know. There is a fine line between higher consciousness and mere addiction induced dreams.

Anonymous said...

I love Alex Grey. I first heard about him after opening the Lateralus album cover by Tool.

The surrealism of his art is just perplexing and he has this weird way of conveying how everything in life is related to each other. Amazing artist!

He seems to also be a firm proponent of DMT as well. Gotta give that a try someday.

Nice post Antares! Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

Oh and this here is a good link. Art with LSD.

infectednl said...
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infectednl said...
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infectednl said...

His visions are striking, mind blowing he's definitely an inspiration in my own art: