Alex Grey

the seer

Alex Grey (b. 1953) is an American artist specializing in spiritual and psychedelic art (or visionary art) that is sometimes associated with the New Age movement. Grey is a Vajrayana practitioner, one the three main sects of Buddhism. His body of work spans a variety of forms including performance art, process art, installation art, sculpture, and painting. He and his wife Allyson Grey are the co-founders of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a non-profit institution supporting Visionary Culture in New York City.

Grey’s paintings can be described as a blend of sacred, visionary art and postmodern art. He is best known for his paintings of glowing anatomical human bodies, images that ‘x-ray’ the multiple layers of reality. His art is a complex integration of body, mind, and spirit. ‘The Sacred Mirrors,’ a life-sized series of 21 paintings, took 10 years to complete, and examines in detail the physical and metaphysical anatomy of the individual.

‘The inner body is meticulously rendered – not just anatomically precise but crystalline in its clarity.’ Many of his paintings include detailed representations of the skeleton, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and lymphatic system. Grey applies this multidimensional perspective to paint the universal human experience. His figures are shown in positions such as praying, meditating, kissing, copulating, pregnancy, birth and death. His work incorporates many religious symbols, including auras, chakras, and icons with geometric shapes and tessellations in natural, industrial, and multicultural situations.

As a child Alex collected insects and dead animals from his suburban neighborhood and buried them in his backyard. The themes of death and transcendence weave throughout his artworks, from the earliest drawings to later performances, paintings and sculpture. 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 conducting scientific experiments to investigate subtle healing energies. Alex’s anatomical training prepared him for painting the ‘Sacred Mirrors’ and for doing medical illustration. 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.

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 in 2004. 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.

Grey’s paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of Tool, The String Cheese Incident, the Beastie Boys, and Nirvana. The international psychedelic community has embraced Grey as an important mapmaker and spokesman for the visionary realm. Grey has also made his own contribution to the philosophy of art in his book ‘The Mission of Art’ (1998). Therein, he promotes the possibility of the mystical potential of art: he argues that the process of artistic creation can (and should) play a role in the enlightenment of the artist. For him, the process of artistic creation holds the potential of transcending the limitations of the mind and more fully expressing the divine spirit. He also believes that art can induce within the viewer an elevated state wherein spiritual states of being are attained.

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