By Anne-Marie Pritchett
Alex Grey is renowned for his multi-dimensional depictions of the body, exploring anatomical, psychic, and spiritual forces. For nearly five decades, his art has centered on consciousness and psychedelic visionary experiences. Grey and his lifelong partner, Allyson, underwent a transformative mystical experience in 1976, shifting their perspective from agnostic existentialism to transcendentalism. They have since co-founded the Foundation for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM), a 501(c)(3) charity, opened the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in NYC, an inter-spiritual art church, and erected Entheon, a stunning 12,000-square-foot exhibition of the finest original works of Visionary Art located in Hudson Valley.
As a visionary artist somewhat on the fringes of contemporary art and connected with psychedelics and outsider culture, Grey’s association with the band TOOL changed the game for his art and career. More people came to know his work and began tattooing the imagery onto their bodies. We sat down with Grey to discuss inspiration, transformation, and innovation in the ever-emerging world of psychedelic art.
How has your art transformed over the past five decades?
I have often used human anatomy as the basis of my art. The body is the conduit through which consciousness is experienced. The mind is formless and invisible, except to the clairvoyant seer or tripping psychonaut who perceives multidimensionally, viewing the light-body flashing its chakras, auras, and thought forms. Transcendent spirit can be symbolized as light, tunnels, and expanses of eyes as the ultimate symbol of consciousness. Infinite eyes represent infinite awareness.
What was the first inspiration behind the TOOL album covers, and how did your visions for them evolve over time?
Adam Jones, lead guitar, visionary artist, graphic designer, and filmmaker, asked me to collaborate on the album art and then the animation for Lateralus. He wanted to create anatomical overlays, as seen in health books, printed on clear vinyl. Some of my previous art featured the flaming eye, so the symbol came to me as I was trying to visualize “illuminated consciousness” woven into the anatomy of the figure. The heart, the hand, and the throat are three eyes/centers of creative expression. Adam designs each album as a TOOL.
For the 10,000 Days album, Adam called when I had been working on the Net of Being for over a year. It had not been published anywhere, so I sent a picture to Adam to propose it as a possible solution to the album cover art. He loved it. For the Fear Inoculum album, Adam inquired again as I was developing studies and a maquette for my twelve-foot by eight-foot painting, The Great Turn. Computer graphic animation helped me visualize the final image. The way the video became part of the innovative package was pure magic for this Grammy-winning album.
What’s important to you that someone captures in a tattoo they get of your work?
That the tattoo artist works very carefully and offers the best possible translation of the painting onto the skin is my highest and deepest wish for anyone’s tattoo. I reverence tattoo collectors and artists of my work, and I pray that they will offer the same sacred respect for my artwork.
Allyson and I and the CoSM crew are fully engaged in raising funds to complete Entheon with a sculptural countenance of monumental faces that will wrap around the entire outer Entheon structure. Tattoo artists and collectors who earn their living using my work might consider making an offering/donation to CoSM to help complete the Sanctuary of Visionary Art. You would be part of helping build something together. We ask that tattoo artists and collectors provide us with a good photo document of the piece, and please email it to [email protected]. A wall of the TOOL Shrine in Entheon is dedicated to honoring myriads of tattoos (and even a few scarifications) of my artwork and symbols. Gratitude to all the amazing folks over the years who have committed my art to their skin.
What’s the best tattoo of your work that you’ve seen?
Some of the full-body tattoos are outrageous and inventive. Saw a few cute butt tats. The head tats are next level. I can’t say the best one because there have been so many.
Net of Being has become so iconic. What does it mean to you when you see it tattooed on someone?
Well, it means that they are part of the great net of beings! And they probably love TOOL!
Tell us about Entheon and the Portal, and walk us through the exhibition.
Entheon exhibits the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, plus many significant works by myself, notable art by Allyson, and artwork by accomplished contemporary visionary and psychedelic artists. First-floor exhibits include the All One Gallery Inaugural Exhibition, the TOOL Shrine, the Psychedelic Reliquary with display relics that include the glasses that Dr. Hofmann wore when he discovered LSD, the ashes of Ralph Metzner and Timothy Leary, and historical artifacts and ephemera related to the history of psychedelics.
The second and third-floor galleries exhibit the CoSM Collection of works by Allyson and myself, identifying our common subject as Transcendental Light. The Chaos, Order & Secret Writing Gallery features artwork by Allyson. Progress of the Soul Gallery presents a selection of my paintings that “x-ray” multiple layers of reality, while the Performance Gallery shares video and photographic documentation from selected pieces, including Prayer Wheel, Living Cross, Goddess, Meditations On Mortality, Wasteland, and Burnt Offering. The Great Hall features the largest and most transcendental of our paintings, including Cosmic Christ, Net of Being, and Godself.
How does someone begin to stimulate awareness of their vital sources?
Learn to meditate. Psychedelics may help catalyze your awakening consciousness, but consider the risks. Many of us have taken psychedelics without guidance, and it has been enlightening and turned out fine. But if you question your mental stability, have personality disorders, or have a history of mental struggle, seek a guide before self-medicating. We are fortunate to be entering an age when treatment is readily available, and even psychedelic psycho-therapy is becoming accepted.
What are you currently working on—any new pieces/collections you’d like to share?
Allyson’s and my drawings and paintings continue to evolve. We have long-collaborated on a 35-foot-long mural called Stardancers that we intend to complete this year. The most exciting project on our horizon is completing Entheon by creating and mounting the building’s sculptural outer “faces.” Those who would like to participate with us in building a Visionary temple can say a prayer for its realization, become a member of CoSM, attend a CoSM event, make a contribution, and buy a beautiful object or work of art from CoSM Shop on the CoSM site or online store shop.cosm.org. All proceeds coming our way go toward sustaining CoSM and taking this next creative step.