Interview by Monica Katarina Frisk & Per Frisk
Many of your work/paintings are related to our bodies in a medical sense. What inspired you to paint in this way and how did it unfold?
Alex Grey: My obsession with anatomy goes back to earliest childhood drawings. My mother kept the oldest work and among those drawings were images of skeletons. The subject of mortality leads directly into questions about the purpose of life and nature of consciousness. The body is the box containing consciousness, my art explores that mystery. The body I portray in paintings is meant as a scientifically accurate universal signifier for a human being.
You are, by far, the most well known artist in the field of transformative art. When did you become aware of this?
Alex: Thank you for that generous point of view. We have met people around the world that have had powerful connections with my art, many saying that it reminds them of their own psychedelic mystical experiences. I am deeply honored. There are thousands of people all over the world with my artwork tattooed to their flesh. May that artwork act as a transformative energy for those who have chosen it. It helps me become a better person knowing that when in public I may "be recognized” so be friendly and nice. We meet people in every airport and in city streets world-wide. CoSM has become a pilgrimage place for the global Love Tribe to visit and enjoy community with Allyson and I.
You stated that: your art “is an essentialized worldview that all is either chaos, order or a secret language. Please elaborate.
Allyson Grey: For over forty years, my paintings have represented an essentialized world view, portraying the three characteristics of the ALL — Chaos, Order & Secret Writing.
First evidence of my Secret Writing came in 1971, after reading the book Be Here Now, by Baba Ram Dass. The book inspired me to take a heroic dose of LSD with the intention of seeing the “White Light." The veil of material reality lifted and opened my eyes to Secret Writing. Mystic language flowed in ribbons, washing over all surfaces. Infinite characters expressed the "Nameless Presence” of higher consciousness sent from "Realms of the Unpronounceable.” The spirit embedded in communication cannot be reduced to concepts. Every thought that becomes a thing comes from our mind into the material world through symbols, those we learn from our culture including language and etiquette, and unspoken mental creations including our personal appearance and our creative expression. Secret Writing, while it appears to communicate, is a language of pure spirit, disassociated with sounds, antithetical to translation. Entering the world through the window of the mind, Secret Writing represents the invisible thoughts that become visual things.
Chaos, by definition, is order plus entropy. The symbol I created to represent chaos characterizes a system (the spectrum), comprised of cells (squares), all appearing as particles and waves, falling apart in an exquisite spontaneous flow of planned randomness. Order plus entropy describes the material realm as it appears to our conscious mind.
Order within this essentialized symbol system is an abstract spectral view into the cosmic fountain and drain of energy, the suck hole/blow hole of interconnected, multi-colored energy packets of light. "Order," suggests the purity and perfection of the invisible realm of bliss one might experience in transcendental states of mystic unity sometimes referred to as Nirvana, Heaven, or the Infinite Divine. My vision of pure Order was inspired by LSD, first on June 3rd, 1976, simultaneous with Alex’s vision of Universal Mind Lattice. It was apparent to both of us that our identities were present and together in this revealed realm, a vast vista of fountains and drains of energy in which each being and thing was a roiling, torroidal ball of love light, the visible God.
Tens of thousands of labor intensively applied spectral squares, plus a mystery language in this body of work, point to a paradox of particles and waves, cells and systems, entropy and inter-connectedness, reflectivity and broken reality, meaning and the ineffable.
Becoming a mother to Zena, how did it affect your artistic path?
Allyson: Alex and I had been together for thirteen years when we had Zena. I was 36 years old. I had had numerous solo shows in Boston and New York, public commissions and many sales of my artwork before I became a mother. I was so ready and in love with my baby and being a mother at that time and I drank up every moment, knowing that she would be our one and only. I am so glad that I never stopped painting and the work has continued to attract collectors and some recognition without gallery representation.
Becoming parents, we created art related to our experience. When I was eight months pregnant, we performed “Soul Furnace,” a ritual pageant resulting in a permanent sculptural installation at Islip Art Museum in New York. Dressed in white, Alex & I led a harvest parade of tiki torches through a wooded path to a fire circle we prepared in the shape of a human figure 20 feet (609.6 cm) long. The stone figure was made of cobblestones from the streets of Brooklyn, where Zena would be born. In the bonfire, we burned wood from the construction project of modifying our Brooklyn loft to accommodate our new baby.
When Zena was eight months old she participated in her first performance with us. In a one-day performance-installation in front of Lincoln Center entitled, “Goddess,” we created the shape of the Venus of Willendorf on the ground with 5,500 apples. Zena nursed in my lap while Alex offered one hundred prostrations at the foot of the Goddess.
When Zena was seven she was cast in an off Broadway musical. Her career as a child starlet began and by the time she was nine, she acted in a Broadway play (New York City) and had a principle roll in a Universal Pictures film. Making a movie or two every year, my life became wrapped in Zena’s career until she finished high school and moved to Hollywood where she lives the dream, now ten years later. My art has always been with me as a challenge and a comfort. Art is a daily meditation. It is so good for children to see their mothers and fathers pursuing a creative life and passion.
Becoming a father to Zena, how did it affect your artistic path?
Alex: The day that Zena was born, November 15, 1988 I had a vision of the painting, “Gaia,” which presented the choice between preserving or destroying the earth. Zena’s birth, the reality of parenthood, changed my relationship with the world and made me present to my responsibility as an artist to children of the future. Parenthood presents us with an opportunity to face our shadows and transform through love. The choice and condition of parenthood brought citizenship to my otherwise alienated sense of community. Suddenly our neighbors, after five years, seem to notice us. The joy of parenthood is shared by neighbors and even strangers. Becoming a parent helped me to forgive my own parents and to psychically reconstruct a more healthy-minded self. Zena always was and still is so full of joy, beauty, creativity, and love that she constantly inspires us to become more loving people.
In 1985, I painted “New Family” and Zena was born in late 1988. In 1985, I also painted “Nursing.” I started painting “Pregnancy” when Allyson was pregnant. In each case, I painted the infant child with red hair, even though neither Allyson nor I ever had red hair. Zena was born with prodigious red hair.
In your CoSM #10 volume on Love, in ”Love Rites”, you write about your experience on June 3, 1976, ” ... becoming as pure spiritual essence /.../ sharing the same love-light ...” Does this experience of infinite interconnectedness still pervade your life and influence you as artists?
Alex: It is why we are building a Chapel — a sacred place to exhibit a record of that experience. We had penetrated into the Universal Mind, the Network of Divine Intelligence beyond the body and now are enshrining an acknowledgement of the Divinity of each person. A psychedelic mystical journey initiated us into infinite dimensions of the mind that others have described after having a near death experience. The Sacred Mirrors are an entry point into this unity.
Allyson: The experience lifted the veil on conventional reality and revealed a realm in which we were more than and apart from our bodies. We could see and feel the force that flows through all beings and things, a force that animates our being. Alex and I both had God Contact experiences independently on LSD and then recognized the true spirit of the other in the awe of that experience.
If so, have you ever felt that this awareness can be too heavy to endure, given how the world looks now?
Alex: No. This is why we are building a temple. Many feel stuck in the material perishing world. The arts have always pointed the way out and the way into the Divine Imagination. Seeing as it took a universe capable of Divine Imagination, the entire process of cosmogenesis has been a sacred unfolding.
Allyson: No. I love my life. What better way to spend a life than to serve a community with love and light. The darkness pervades and we are the light bringers. It is our work to point toward the portal of truth and beauty. Building a temple is the work of a community of common good.
You work independently as visual artists and cooperate with each other. How does it work? Do you ever disagree? How does the other influence your work?
Alex: A committed relationship is a transformative path and daily practice. Being co-creators since 1975 has revealed to us the value of insight from the other to refresh and expand our minds. Humbling self-reflection is mirrored by the beloved. Our relationship, God’s love in the flesh, heaven on earth, has been the greatest gift of my life.
Allyson: Alex & I have shared a studio since 1975. We often discuss our work, both art and CoSM, and are just as comfortable working independently in each other’s company. We disagree everyday. There are many decisions that have to be made and we are two people with different mental pictures. Negotiating with the one I love has been the best personal training I could ever receive. I can trust Alex’s point of view to be heart felt.
Looking into the future, how do you see our world in spiritual terms?
Alex: Humanity is going through the most serious challenge to the survival of the web of life, presenting a moral crisis now and for the future. Can we transform into a species in a sustainable relationship with nature and stop killing the web of life? There is no time for equivocating and strategies must be implemented to mitigate dire consequences ahead. If humanity can rise to the spiritual challenge of balancing the powers of the sexes and revive the heart and soul of our species to mend the wounded life-web, if that turn can be made, our spiritual future could be the creation of heaven on earth. If we cannot see our planet as a sacred place of learning we will waste billions of years of evolution and technological development due to human greed, hatred and ignorance.
Allyson: The world has always been filled with the vilest evil along side the most holy all all shades of transgression and purity in between. We each choose where to place our focus and attention. Knowing that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket,” should we want a life we love, we have to cultivate compassion for the beleaguered world while doing all we can to bring light into our world. Light is an attractor and others will want to come near and bring their light. Being creative in this world of light, much good and beauty can be manifest and shared. There is much evidence of such centers of light and caring springing up all over the planet where good people want the best for their community.
Besides your artwork, what is your passion?
Alex: My passion involves philosophical questions about consciousness, the mystical experience, the nature of love and the self; Reclaiming the history of sacramental culture and psychedelic science; founding an interfaith religion based on creativity; contemplating the great questions: What is the nature of our soul? Is there an afterlife? What can I do to help the world? How can I better love?
Allyson: My greatest passion is for Alex & Zena. Their well being is always on my mind. CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, is my artwork as much as my painting and they are both passions that I actively pursue everyday. I started teaching myself piano again at age 62 after a 50 year hiatus. I’d like to sight read musical notation and I am improving.
Which of your psychedelic visions do you see as the most important and beneficial for future generations?
Alex: The vision in 1976 of the Universal Mind Lattice represents an experience beyond the body and the earth. It portrays a timeless spiritual light of love that connects everything.
Allyson: The title of the diptych, "Jewel Net of Indra," describes the abode of Indra, the Hindu deity of space, comprised of a net that stretches infinitely in all directions and at every intersection of the net, there is a jewel so highly polished that it reflects every other Jewel in the Net. This metaphor is an infinitude of connectedness and inter-reflectivity that was featured in my most profound psychedelic experiences.
What obstacles must be overcome to reach a positive future?
Alex: Humanity must return to a sacred way of seeing the planet and generate reverence for life. The U.S. has to get rid of Trump. Our species must overcome prejudice and misogyny. The world has to give up our addiction to petroleum and meat. We have to stop tearing down the rainforest for corporate agriculture to feed the meat industry. We need to care for the life-web and roll back climate change. Willfully blind corporate capitalists are stealing the future from humanity.
Allyson: There is no “independent arising.” We are all connected. The same energy that flows through me, flows through you.The obstacle is seeing ourselves as separate.
Allyson: I am an artist with two bodies of work: my paintings, including oils, acrylics and watercolors; and my collaborative social sculpture, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, a trans-denominational, radically welcoming interfaith art church in the Hudson Valley of New York. My life is a work of art. My ancestry makes me a Jew and I love being Jewish even though I do not love all the things Jews say or do. I am the wife of the accomplished and talented artist, Alex Grey. I am the mother of the talented and accomplished artist/actor, Zena Grey. I am a friend to many who join us in the sacred work of building an enduring temple to uplift a global community.
Family: Alex Grey (alexgrey.com) & Zena Grey (zenagrey.com),
Two sisters, Shelley, a successful business woman, and Lizbeth, an ayahuasca shaman in Ecuador.
Resident: Alex & I live in the Hudson Valley of New York and occasionally in our home of 36 years in Brooklyn, New York.
Profession/calling: Artist: Painter & Social Sculptor; Writer & Editor; co-founder & Minister of CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, an interfaith church Motto: Every moment is an opportunity for love & transformation.
Unknown talent: — I practice yoga, meditation & piano every day I can.
Current news: The opening of Entheon, the Sanctuary of Visionary Art at CoSM, is closer than EVER!
Family: Allyson Grey (allysongrey.com) & Zena Grey (zenagrey.com)
Resident: Allyson & I have a home at CoSM in the Hudson Valley of New York. Since 1983, we've maintained a home in Brooklyn, New York, where Zena grew up.
Profession/calling: Mystic Visionary Artist; author; co-founder & Minister of CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, an interfaith church
Motto: Surrender to Love
Unknown talent: Whistling and inventing tunes
Current news: I am painting, sculpting, designing environments, collaborating with accomplished artists, imagining a positive future for humanity and co-creating an oasis for spiritual nomads.