The Mystical Healing Art of Alex Grey
Healing Arts Directory: Most artists paint what they see with their eyes. When did you start seeing things beyond the surface? When did you start painting things that way?
Alex Grey: I did a portrait of a skeleton when I was five. The skeleton probably was not right in front of me when I drew it. I’ve learned to paint what I see, to render, to draw, but the images have always come from my inner vision.
Healing Arts Directory: Your classic painting Gaia depicts the polarity between nature and human influence. One is very fertile and alive. The part depicting urban and human mis-influence is decaying and unappealing. Would you say overall that you are optimistic or pessimistic about human survival? And what causes you to be either?
Alex: It’s easy to question the survivability of our sometimes self-destructive species. Billions of years of evolution and divine intelligence have brought us to this point, and my faith comes from the miraculous capacity that humanity has to manifest its highest possibility.
Healing Arts Directory: What is your definition of healing?
Alex Grey: “Life is suffering” is Buddha’s first Noble Truth. Suffering is living not in the present, living with desire. This is the second Noble Truth. Healing is liberation from suffering. We are beings that suffer from the dialectic between good and evil, spirit and matter, all polarities. Polarities are a form of struggle that our mind creates to understand the world. Transcending dualism through spiritual practice leads to the ultimate form of healing which is enlightenment.
We are all dying and we are all healing. The cells of the body are constantly decaying and regenerating. White blood cells continually fight disease and the body tends to heal. Focusing on an ideal state can facilitate healing. Sacred iconography can be healing because an open-hearted viewer can align themselves with spiritual energy transmitted through the icon. By reflecting a divine template, enlightened masters embody the highest potential for health to which a human can aspire, liberation from duality and delusion, and compassion for all sentient beings.
Healing Arts Directory: How can a person integrate the most dimensions of being and awareness?
Alex Grey: Become One with the All. There are many ways that people have glimpsed the infinite multiverse including meditation, deprivation, near death experiences, and entheogens.
Healing Arts Directory: When did you first associate art and healing? What is the role of art in healing? The mechanism?
Alex Grey: As a young man, I was unwell in my mind and art brought me through that experience and continues to heal me in many ways. Like many artists, I feel more alive and fulfilled when I’m creating. Otto Rank’s theory of psychology rested on neurotics being unfulfilled artists. Blocked creativity can lead to dis-ease.
Healing Arts Directory: You sometimes attend “wellness” events. Tell me about your participation in those.
Alex Grey: In late April, Allyson and I will be speaking at the Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida on the subject of Art as a Healing Force, a subject I have addressed before. I will also speak at the Wellness Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho in late May. The issue of using entheogenic substances, its uses and abuses, and the matter of communicating with children about drugs are also wellness issues that Allyson and I have spoken about at conferences and at Burning Man.
Healing Arts Directory: One of your most recent projects is the establishment of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. What is it?
Alex Grey: The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is a spiritual cultural center in New York that houses fifty works of my artworks. It is a sanctuary for seeing ourselves and each other as reflections of the divine.
Healing Arts Directory: What is the Chapel’s role in healing.
Alex Grey: The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is a womb for the gestation of the awakening human spirit. That is its mission. The Sacred Mirrors were conceived as a tool for healing the body, mind and spirit. Visualizing healthy anatomical systems can assist the physical body to be healed. By seeing oneself in others, compassion can heal the mind. Reflecting on the interconnectedness of all beings and things and experiencing the embodiment of sacred archetypes can catalyze spiritual wholeness.
Healing Arts Directory: Is the CoSM as you envisioned it? What [if anything] surprised you when it was finished and people started visiting it?
Alex Grey: The current location [Manhattan] of CoSM is temporary. The permanent Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is yet to be built and is in the stage of planning, fund raising, site selection, and design. We are honored that people continue to come to the Chapel. The entire project is a wonder and a surprise as it unfolds. Allyson and I are continually inspired by the evolution of our creative community.
Healing Arts Directory: Tell me about your family growing up, your parents, your siblings? Did they always ‘get you’ or did it take a while?
Alex Grey: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio where my family still lives. My parents have been married for 57 years and love my brother, my sister and I very much. They worried about my transgressive artwork and this caused some problems when I was younger. They are proud of my success as an artist now. I don’t think anyone in my family would say that they understand my work but we all get along quite well anyway.
Healing Arts Directory: Who are some great [non-artist] influences in your life?
Alex Grey: Ken Wilber doesn’t consider himself an artist and is a great influence. As is His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Healing Arts Directory: What events or things are on your list of influences?
Alex Grey: Monster Movies and magazines, pyrotechnics, my encounter with Otto Muehl and the Viennese Actionists, LSD and meeting my wife, fire walking with Tony Robbins, skydiving, Landmark Education…
Healing Arts Directory: You acknowledge the sacred use of entheogenic substances [psychedelics] — Are they still part of your art experience?
Alex Grey: Indeed.
Healing Arts Directory: There is a difference between “legalizing” and “decriminalizing” natural substances. With legalizing, there seems to be a history of civil governments taking control/regulation of the commercialization process, often to ill effect. We are beginning to see some of that in the medical marijuana issue. Decriminalization on the other hand seems to keep the processes in the hands of people who often have a philosophical sympathy with the users. Would you comment?
Alex Grey: Like in the case of the UDV Church in the United States, I believe that entheogen use is a religious rights issue. The legal battle to permit the use of ayahuasca in sacred ceremony represents a model that I support. I also support the medical marijuana model in California and other places. All forms of drug policy reform that move toward cognitive liberty are positive.
[Editor’s Note: A case that reached the United States Supreme Court docket is Gonzales v. Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao de Vegetal (UDV). The UDV Church utilizes ayahoasca, a hallucinogenic tea, in its sacramental ceremonies. An American branch is located in Santa Fe, N.M. No one doubts the sincerity of the church’s religious beliefs or the central role that ayahoasca plays in its religious rites. Ayahoasca use is akin to the role of peyote in Native American rituals. The federal government has recognized peyote’s religious use by creating a limited exemption from federal drug laws. The government has refused, however, to grant the UDV church a similar exemption that would allow for the importation of ayahoasca from Brazil. The American Civil Liberties Union joined a broad range of religious groups in supporting the church’s right to use ayahoasca under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In an important decision on 21 February 2006 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that usage of the ayahuasca tea as part of UDV religious ceremonies cannot be prosecuted by the federal government, in accordance with RFRA. www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/04-1084.htm]
Healing Arts Directory: My own take has been that once a person, and then a society, realizes that perception is alterable from the inside out, if you will – once a person fully knows that – the need for continued use of a drug or substance no longer exists. Once the door is opened, you don’t have to keep on opening it, sort of. What do you think of that idea?
Alex Grey: Fine for you, perhaps. I like to keep the door cracked open a bit.
Healing Arts Directory: Historically, the Church or religions, along with heads of state have been artists’ sponsors. Who are the great sponsors of our time?
Alex Grey: If you are talking about art supporters on the order of the Medici’s, you’d have to look at the Dia empire [Editor: Dia Art Foundation in New York] or the Sachi’s. There have been many generous collectors who have helped us to create the Chapel. We are still looking for a “Medici” to fund Third Millennium sacred space — a home for the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors collection.
Healing Arts Directory: Be well.
Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio and studied art in the Midwest before migrating to the East Coast in the 1970s. He met his wife, artist Allyson Rymland Grey, at the Boston Museum School. During the mid-70s he had a series of entheogenically induced mystical experiences that transformed his agnostic existentialism to the radical transcendentalism evidenced in his artwork.
Alex 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.
Grey was an instructor in Artistic Anatomy and Figure Sculpture for ten years at New York University, and has taught 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, N.Y.
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.
Perhaps Grey’s most renowned paintings, the Sacred Mirrors series is featured in his wildly popular large-format art book, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Artwork of Alex Grey, (1990). The framed series is now on display at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in New York. There is also a DVD available titled Artmind: The Healing Power of Sacred Art with Alex Grey, featuring images of much of his work and in which Grey discusses his art.
Grey and his wife Allyson often take part in healing workshops and the CoSM sponsors regular events related to expanding the awareness of oneness.
Featured art 'Journey of the Wounded Healer Panel 3' by Alex Grey