Mystic Eye:
The Story of Alex Grey

Photography: Eric Allen

Ken Wilber, 1998
Ken Wilber, 1998
Alex Grey might be the most significant artist alive. In a world gone postmodern, bereft of meaning and value, cut loose on a sea of irony and indifference, Alex is taking a stunning stand: there is a God, there is Spirit, there is a transcendental ground and goal of human development and unfolding. Higher realities are available to us – that is the message of Alex Grey’s art.
– Ken Wilber
Integral philosopher & author
Alex Grey is best known for his depictions of the body that provide a multi-dimensional “x-ray” of anatomical, psychic and spiritual forces. For many people his visionary art presents icons of the psychedelic mystical experience.
Monochord, 2013
Monochord, 2013
Early Years
Skeleton, age 5
Skeleton, age 5
Skeleton, age 10
Skeleton, age 10
Skeletal System, 1979
Skeletal System, 1979
Dying, 1990
Dying, 1990
Alex Grey was born on November 29, 1953, in Columbus, Ohio as Alex Velzy. He was the middle child of Walt and Jane Velzy. His father was a graphic designer who encouraged Alex’s art making. Elementary school teachers recognized and supported his devotion to drawing. As a boy, Alex collected insects and dead animals from his neighborhood and buried them in the backyard. At age ten, he picked up what he thought was a dead bird and was bitten by a rabid bat, the cure required 21 painful shots. Themes of mortality weave throughout Alex’s artwork, from his earliest skeleton drawings to later performances, paintings and sculpture.
In 1966, when Alex was 12, his science project was about LSD, focusing on the mind-expanding ideas of Timothy Leary. At age seventeen, Alex won the national Seventeen Magazine Illustration Competition [1971]. Also that year, Alex was granted a full scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design, which he attended from 1971-3.
12 year-old Alex
12 year-old Alex
Private Subway, 1974
Private Subway, 1974
Private Subway, 1974
Private Subway, 1974
Private Subway, 1974
Private Subway, 1974
A haunting dream image caused a radical change in the artist’s appearance that year. In the dream, Alex opened a trashcan lid and saw himself staring up from inside the can, his head half shaved bald, the other half long. Alex decided to focus on polarities in his work so he maintained a half-shaved head for half a year. Several of his performance pieces that year featured this self-presentation.
Taking the theme of polarities further, Alex journeyed to the arctic North Magnetic Pole to explore the phenomenon of "Polar Wandering." Returning to the Museum School at years end, having spent all his money, and broken up with his long-term girlfriend, the future was uncertain and the artist was despondent. He asked God to show him a sign that he should go on living.
Behind closed eyes, I was spiralling through an inner tunnel of awareness, a re-birth canal, in the dark, but going toward the light. The light was infinite love and divine wisdom, it felt like God was there. The Polar Unity Spiral showed me that all opposites were connected by the different shades of grey. Grey brought the opposites together, and that was what I wanted to do with my art, so I decided to change my name based on that journey. Allyson, in whose apartment I saw God, had also seen the transcendental light on LSD and we fell in love and have been together since that night. Saved my life.
– Metal Hammer Magazine
Interview with Alex Grey, September 2019
Polar Unity Spiral, 1975
Polar Unity Spiral, 1975
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, 1977
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, 1977
The couple got married in 1977 and both decided to take the name Grey.
Career
From 1975-80, Alex worked in the Anatomy Department at Harvard Medical School. There, he created exhibits for the Anatomical Museum and prepared cadavers for dissection by medical students. He also spent many hours in the Psychedelic and Paranormal aisles of the medical library. In 1980, Alex worked in the department of Mind/Body Medicine as a research assistant on an experiment investigating subtle energy healing. During his work at Harvard Alex was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism and had the good fortune to sit with His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and to study with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his first visit to the U.S. Alex’s anatomical training and consciousness studies prepared him to paint the Sacred Mirrors, inspired by the performance entitled, “Life Energy."
Life Energy Performance, 1978
Life Energy Performance, 1978
Performed in 1978 at Helen Schlein Gallery [Boston], “Life Energy” was a series of interactive group processes to evoke the vital force, and Alex gave his first lecture, a slide talk on “The History of Life Energy." An interactive installation in the gallery drew the most attention: two life-sized charts drawn by Alex, ink on heavy paper, one portraying the nervous system and one portraying acupuncture meridians and points, chakras and auras. Participants were invited to stand before the charts and reflect on their own anatomy, both physical and esoteric. Based on the success of the charts, Allyson suggested doing paintings of the many levels of being and titling the series, Sacred Mirrors.
Begun in 1979, Sacred Mirrors took Alex ten years to complete. This monumental work invites the viewer to reflect on their own divine nature by examining 21 layers of body, mind, and spirit. Material World begins the series with symbols of the chemical self, including the periodic table of the elements. The work continues with finely detailed oil paintings, the Skeletal, Nervous, Cardiovascular, Lymphatic, & Muscular Systems of a male and a pregnant female. The “mind,” where all distinctions and judgements are made, is represented in the series by male and female figures of three races. The Psychic Energy System, Spiritual Energy System and Universal Mind Lattice, display the physical body dissolving into a torus shaped ball of light, a visual translation of the Grey’s simultaneous psychedelic mystical experience which occurred on June 3, 1976.
Psychic Energy System, 1980
Psychic Energy System, 1980
Spiritual Energy System, 1981
Spiritual Energy System, 1981
Universal Mind Lattice, 1981
Universal Mind Lattice, 1981
…we became individual fountains and drains of light, interlocked with an infinite omnidirectional network of fountains and drains composed of and circulating a brilliant iridescent love energy. We were the Light, and the Light was God… We felt like death was not to be feared because the Light was our spiritual core and we would eventually return to the profoundly transcendental bliss of the lattice realm. After the experience of the Universal Mind Lattice, we decided that a vision of sacred interconnectedness was the most important subject of art.
– Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey
foreword by Allyson Grey & Alex Grey
1990, Inner Traditions
Alex painted other spiritual archetypes including Void/Clear Light, Avalokitesvara, Christ and Sophia, to complete the Sacred Mirrors. In 1984, the Grey's moved from their downtown studio in Boston, Massachusetts to Brooklyn, New York. In their Brooklyn loft, July 7, 1985, the Grey's wore blindfolds for their first MDMA experience. This was when they simultaneously visioned the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a permanent public home for the series. It was then Alex imagined elaborate sculptural frames around each Sacred Mirror painting and designing them began. In their Brooklyn loft basement, the Grey's sculpted and cast 21 frames in time for an exhibition of the entire series at the New Museum, New York City [February 1986], where the “Choices" show featured performance artists, including Tehching Hsieh, Marina Abramovic, James Lee Byars and Mike Osterhout. New Museum Director, Marcia Tucker, described her intent for the exhibition:
"Choices” is an exhibition of work which attempts to remove the barriers between art and life. It is about artists who make their lives art, and vice versa, often with extraordinary results… Grey's Sacred Mirrors are portraits of the human being in a universal sense, attempting to address every aspect of the body and spirit.
- Choices
by Marcia Tucker, New Museum, exhibition catalogue 1986
Stux Gallery, NYC featured a solo exhibit of Alex’s paintings [1986] where the iconic works Kissing, Copulating, and eighteen foot long Journey of the Wounded Healer were first shown. A review by Carlo McCormick appeared in ARTFORUM, September 1986:
While the group of paintings exhibited here were actually about love and positive energies, the lack of sentimentality in Grey’s execution, and his graphic, scientific dissection of what is normally rendered as sensuous flesh, tend to make them appear more coldly distanced. Yet these are in fact extremely passionate works, and it is only Grey’s inquisitiveness, his desire to understand the cosmic meta-structure of humanity, that drives him to such a rigorously detailed account of the typically unseen.
- ARTFORUM
September 1986, Carlo McCormick, review section
Grey’s work was celebrated in a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego [1999]. Deepak Chopra spoke at the opening and Grey premiered the first animated view of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Although the show was popular and well attended Grey received a dismissive attack from LA Times art critic Leah Ollman. Grey defended his work in a published letter to the editor, that accused the critic of “soulphobia.”
Lateralus Cover
Lateralus Cover
TOOL Tondo, Lateralus CD Art
TOOL Tondo, Lateralus CD Art
TOOL Lateralus Tour
TOOL Lateralus Tour
TOOL Lateralus Tour
TOOL Lateralus Tour
TOOL Concert, Portland, 2020
TOOL Concert, Portland, 2020
At a gallery in Santa Monica [1999], Alex meets Adam Jones, lead guitarist for Tool, beginning a decades-long association of Alex Grey’s art with the band’s intense rock music. Grey provided art for Lateralus (2001), 10,000 Days (2006), and Fear Inoculum (2019) albums and numerous stage designs and animations. Although Alex’s artwork had previously been featured in the album art of Nirvana, the Beastie Boys and several trance music albums, his identification with the beloved music of Tool helped build his international fan base.
In 2002 the New York Times profiled the Grey's in an article titled, “Psychedelic Parenthood”:
Mr. Grey's work, based on "visions" he receives, often during meditation or LSD trips, has not always been embraced by established art critics and galleries. "There was a long moment in the contemporary art arena when anything associated with the quote-unquote spiritual was suspect," said Director of New Museum Marcia Tucker, on her way to a New Year's retreat in the San Francisco area. "Right now people are once again turning to that aspect, which has always been there, seeing how much spirituality is intrinsic to the making and experiencing of art." The Greys' work has found an audience outside the established art world.
- New York Times
Psychedelic Parenthood
John Leland, January 3, 2002
New York Times art critic Holland Cotter reviewed Grey’s exhibits at Tibet House and Feature Gallery 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. It makes sense that Mr. Grey's images have been appropriated by a counterculture audience: they show up on promotional posters for rave events and on paper used for blotter-style L.S.D.”
- New York Times
Alex Grey at Tibet House and Feature Gallery
art review by Holland Cotter on Oct 2, 2002
In the 2014 article, "The Second Psychedelic Revolution – Alex Grey: Mystic Artist," counter-culture historian, James Oroc explains how Grey’s work has been part of a new wave of psychedelia:
With the publication of "Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey" in 1990, the psychedelic community soon discovered that the art contained within its pages resonated to many like miraculous snap shots of the psychedelic realm, faithfully rendered vistas brought back with great skill from the far shores of the visionary experience. And when Alex and his wife and fellow-artist Allyson Grey first addressed the Psychedelic Community at the Mind States conference in Berkeley, CA, in 1997, they discovered for the first time an enthusiastic audience to whom they didn’t have to apologize for their own psychedelic use. Since this fateful nexus, Alex and Allyson Grey’s influence on psychedelic culture has been unparalleled. The use of Alex Grey’s artwork on the album covers and stage shows of bands like Tool and The Beastie Boys greatly increased his general popularity with youth culture, while the inclusion of his artwork in the actual Burning Man structure in 2006 essentially anointed his chosen status as this generation’s most important psychedelic artist.
– The Second Psychedelic Revolution
Alex Grey: Mystic Artist, by James Oroc
Alex Grey in front of Net of Being at Burning Man
Alex Grey in front of Net of Being at Burning Man
Alex Grey & Albert Hofmann, 2006
Alex Grey & Albert Hofmann, 2006
At the LSD Conference in Basel Switzerland [2006] held to honor Dr. Albert Hofmann’s 100th Birthday, Grey created a work titled, St. Albert and the LSD Revelation Revolution and invited him to sign the back of his portrait which he graciously did and he added a drawing of the molecule. His signature transformed the artwork into a sacred relic. After Albert’s death in 2008, the Hofmann family also gifted additional relics, his spectacles and black hat, and a friend provided a hair of “Herr Hofmann,” all to be displayed in a future Psychedelic Reliquary.
In 2010, at the MAPS Psychedelic Conference in Santa Rosa, Alex gave a keynote address entitled "Better Religion through Science and Art." It was Grey’s proposal that the science of psychedelics had demonstrated the importance of mystical experiences in healing and that these same kinds of transcendent visions are at the foundation of religion and sacred art. Then he introduced the idea of building a sanctuary for psychedelic visionary art as a place for the psychonaut community to integrate and honor the mystic state. Grey has been a keynote speaker at Psychedelic and Transpersonal Psychology conferences in Maui, Prague, Tokyo, Moscow, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus including a popular TEDX talk with over a million views, entitled, How Art Evolves Consciousness.
In 2004, Alex wrote and performed a major mixed media piece entitled WorldSpirit featuring his spoken word poetry and art projections. A collaboration with musician, Kenji Williams, the evening program drew an audience of nearly a thousand. Recorded live in Sweets Ballroom, Oakland, California, music and visuals were released as a successful DVD.
WorldSpirit Performance, 2004
WorldSpirit Performance, 2004
Alex's art has been featured in numerous year-long exhibitions at American Visionary Art Museum, [AVAM, Baltimore, Maryland]. AVAM’s annual thematic exhibitions focused on self-taught, Art Brut, folk, insane and outsider artists. Grey's art has appeared at the Outsider Art Fair in NYC and been featured numerous times in Raw Vision Magazine.
Since 2011, Alex Grey has been counted in the Watkins Review "Top 100 Living Spiritual Leaders." At a NYC ceremony, Temple of Understanding in New York City awarded and honored both Alex Grey & Allyson Grey as two of the world's "Top Fifty Interfaith Leaders."
Media & Publications
Sacred Mirrors, 1990
Sacred Mirrors, 1990
His first art monograph entitled, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey, has continuously been in print since 1990, has been translated into seven languages, and sold a hundred fifty thousand copies.
Alex’s inspirational book, The Mission of Art (1998), 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.
The Mission of Art, 1998
The Mission of Art, 1998
The Visionary Artist, 2000
The Visionary Artist, 2000
The Visionary Artist, (2000) a booklet, and audio of Grey’s reflections and visualization processes were published by Sounds True, sharing vision practices incorporated into The Visionary Art Intensive, lead by the Grey’s in cities and jungles throughout the world.
Transfigurations, (2001) the second monograph, contains over 300 plates of his artwork and explores the subject of spiritual light in relation to the body.
Transfigurations, 2001
Transfigurations, 2001
ARTMind, 2001
ARTMind, 2001
The video, ARTmind (2001) incorporates Alex's images and a conversation that explores the healing potential of art. For the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, essays edited by Alan Badiner (Chronicle Books, 2002), Grey was invited to write about the visionary state and artists portraying those Heaven Worlds and curate the Visionary Art represented in the book. Synergetic Press published an updated edition in 2015. In 2004, the release of VISIONS, [Inner Traditions] made available a boxed gift set of the two earlier Alex Grey monographs with an additional poster portfolio of new works.
The third monograph, Net of Being, (2012), shares over 200 reproductions, spectacular photos of Grey’s collaboration with the band TOOL, worldwide live-painting performances, a section on portraits of psychedelic researchers and Alex's reflections on how art evolves consciousness. The fifteen foot painting, Net of Being, was inspired by an ayahuasca journey that offered a blazing vision of infinitely interconnected Godheads. Net of Being is one of Alex’s most memorable works, reaching the minds of millions as the stage set and art for the band TOOL’s epic Grammy award winning album, 10,000 Days. This single image ignited a chain reaction of applications, from apparel and jewelry, tattoos to music videos, an iconic work that has been absorbed and embedded in the body and soul of contemporary culture.
Net of Being, 2012
Net of Being, 2012
Art Psalms
Art Psalms
The power of art as a transformative path is the theme of this inspiring collection from artist and author Alex Grey. Art Psalms combines poems, pictures, and mystic rants that fuse visionary creativity and spirituality. Grey's oracular declarations show that both art's creation and observation can be a practice of love and communion with the divine. Art Psalms features over 150 new reproductions of drawings, paintings, and sacred geometry to enrich and awaken the inner artist in each of us.
– Matthew Fox
Author, Original Blessing, and Creativity:
Where the Divine and the Human Meet
Chapel of Sacred Mirrors
To realize their vision of building a temple, Alex & Allyson co-founded CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. In 1996, Foundation for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became a non-profit organization [501(c)3] with the help of their friend, the artist Bex Frankel. On the Grey’s 25th wedding anniversary, December 4th, 2002, a dinner party was held at Tibet House in NYC, during Alex’s exhibition there. Forty friends assembled to dine together and advise the couple on how to proceed with their visions of CoSM. A prayer committee was formed and shaman, Alex Stark, suggested holding Full Moon Gatherings to connect with the community that would help build the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
In January 2003, the prayer committee met for the first Full Moon Ceremony in the Grey’s loft in Brooklyn. In April they announced the first public Full Moon ceremony on AlexGrey.com. On the evening of April 16th, 2003, the studio received thirty-five participants who enjoyed a spiritual variety show of art wisdom and performance, and spoke and prayed about a future Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
First Full Moon Ceremony, Jan 18th 2003
First Full Moon Ceremony, Jan 18th 2003
Four days later, on Easter Sunday [4/20/2003], the nightclub owner of Spirit NY offered the Grey's a raw floor in Manhattan to build and create a five year exhibition of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors at 527 West 27th Street, the Chelsea neighborhood, soon to be New York’s hub of art and nightclub activity. On Autumnal Equinox, 2004, CoSM opened a psychedelic cultural center, offering events that celebrate the alliance between divinity and creativity. The Grey's best loved artworks were exhibited in the galleries of CoSM NYC 2004-9. For the exhibition of visionary artists in the CoSM community, the center opened MicroCosm Gallery on the same floor. Inclusive thematic group projects gave many artists a place to exhibit, as well as featured solo shows for accomplished painters like Isaac Abrams, Martina Hofmann, Robert Venosa, Ann Mc Coy and Oliver Vernon among many others.
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, CoSM Entrance
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, CoSM Entrance
With the end of a five-year lease looming, Alex & Allyson had to face their ultimate mission for CoSM - to build an enduring sanctuary of Visionary Art, so land would have to be purchased. After over a decade of searching, a 40-acre retreat center was located and the organization moved to the scenic Hudson Valley town of Wappinger, New York [2009].
Alex presenting at Full Moon Ceremony, CoSM
Alex presenting at Full Moon Ceremony, CoSM
Visionary Art Intensive, CoSM Art Lab
Visionary Art Intensive, CoSM Art Lab
Great Hall, Entheon, 2021
Great Hall, Entheon, 2021
Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Entheon, 2021
Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, Entheon, 2021
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, CoSM
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, CoSM
All existing buildings needed full renovation, yet CoSM never missed a Full Moon to celebrate with the growing community. Art Church and Creativity & Wisdom workshops served friends from far and wide. Entheon, Sanctuary of Visionary Art, hosts 12,000 square feet of gallery exhibition space, a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors and many of the most beloved works by Alex Grey and Allyson Grey. Entheon also features the All-One Gallery, showcasing works by artists of the international visionary art movement.
The Infinitizer, Meow Wolf - Las Vegas, 2021
The Infinitizer, Meow Wolf - Las Vegas, 2021
Projected Desert, Meow Wolf - Las Vegas, 2021
Projected Desert, Meow Wolf - Las Vegas, 2021
Collaborating with Meow Wolf Las Vegas, the Grey's are part of the Projected Desert immersive environment and also created The Infinitizer bringing the viewer into a mirrored room that resembles the Net of Being with psychedelic animations bringing the sculptural heads to life.
Embraced by rockstars and scientists, the art of Alex Grey has become icons of the contemporary psychedelic spiritual movement by virtue of their power to inspire, inform, and illuminate the beyond within.
The Grey’s are grateful and proud parents of one daughter, Zena Grey, born in 1988, an accomplished actress, videographer and artist living in Los Angeles.
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, South Rim, Grand Canyon, 2021
Alex Grey & Allyson Grey, South Rim, Grand Canyon, 2021
Alex Grey Signature - Winged
Copyright © 2022 Alex Grey
All Rights Reserved
Built with ❤ in Wappinger, New York