Interview with Alex Grey
Lotus Guide: I’ve heard you say that the divine imagination can be a scary place and I can say from my own experience with LSD that this is true. What I’ve always been curious about is “how real” is that element of “scariness” in the divine imagination. The reason being that if its only reality is in the mind of the observer it makes you wonder if all the madness and the scary things we see in the world today are nothing more than a reflection of our beliefs and how we believe the world is. When looking at your art I’ve always been curious to find out your thoughts on this, which simply put, “Does darkness have any reality other than the absence of light?”
Alex Grey: Perhaps the question is, “Does evil exist?” On the relative level of existence it is apparent that evil manifests in hateful, violent actions that people take against each other and against our environment, against animals. You could say this arises out of ignorance, which is an absence of light, intelligence, and wisdom. There is a quote, “The devil’s greatest accomplishment is convincing you that he doesn’t exist.” On the relative level, there is duality. We see light and dark. We know there are good and evil actions. On the absolute level, the highest spiritual levels of reality, from a nondual perspective, everything is perfect just as it is.
LG: It’s been my experience on my personal path that what I thought I would have called “discoveries” about myself and life turned out to be more of a remembrance of something that I’ve always been but somehow forgot. When I look, I mean really look, at your paintings I get this feeling of familiarity with them. What are your thoughts on this?
AG: Divine self-remembrance—sounds like the phenomena of anamnesis, the process of “re-membering” yourself. Our small self ensnared in duality is dismembered, not whole, not one. Re-membering who we really are is tapping into the God seed in our heart that is the soul’s entry point to the body and beacon of its presence. The light of love shines and my paintings attempt to make our interconnectedness and the subtle radiance of love-light permeate the vision of the viewer. The physical world and the subtle worlds commingle and point toward a transcendental reality, which is a common thread throughout much sacred art.
LG: When I look at some of your art it seems as though I’m looking through a portal directly into the matrix of life with all its fractals and sacred geometry. Now with the creation of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors and CoSM Art Sanctuary, I almost get the sense that this will also be a creation involving sacred geometry, which could actually open up a vortex of spiritual energy with the use of crystals and intention. Do you and Allyson have something that would be considered a divine intention for the art center and the 40 acres it sits on?
AG: CoSM Art Sanctuary is a womb for the gestation of the awakening human spirit, an incubator for the progeny of the marriage of creativity and spirituality. We have been called here to build an extraordinary temple. This is the most exciting adventure that we can imagine. We are taking the biggest risks of our lives.
We intend to honor the Native American people that once inhabited this land and this community. They were called the Wappani. They lived on “The River That Goes Both Ways.” That is what they called the Hudson River before Henry Hudson. The Dutch people that settled here called the Wappani the Wappingers. There are so many layers of history. The town of Wappinger is the only area that remembers the name of these indigenous people, otherwise forgotten. I am of Dutch ancestry.
In 1959, 50 years ago, the United Church of Christ received this land as a gift of the Sherwin family to become a retreat center. The United Church of Christ is Obama’s church and Oprah’s church and has a long history of supporting integration and progressive civil rights. Here, in the early ’60s, black and white preachers shared the pulpit and black and white children attended Sunday school together. We have archival pictures of these people. In our archives we also have found plans drawn up almost 50 years ago to build a chapel on this land. The site was awaiting its chapel and called us here.
The Purpose of CoSM is:
To build a temple to preserve the Sacred Mirrors collection of art as an enduring sanctuary of universal spirit.
To inspire every pilgrim’s creative path and affirm the values of love and perennial wisdom.
To build community around creativity, earth honoring, and transdenominational spirituality.
LG: What are your thoughts on the religious conflict that’s going on in the world today and do you think there will ever be a way to unite conflicting religious beliefs?
AG: If the guiding principle of the primary religious experience is true compassion and timeless wisdom, then authentic, spirit-centered religions will have a future of respectful dialogue with the legacy of human faith. The unity of world religions can be affirmed by their integration within a new kind of temple, a sacred space that honors all paths to spirit. We seek to catalyze this evolutionary spirituality and creativity by offering visionary art that affirms the mystic core of truth, permeating the wisdom traditions and ceremonially initiating the pilgrim into a new relationship of human, planet, and cosmos.
The esoteric mystic cores of world religions have many similarities. The mythic tales of Moses parting the Red Sea or Jesus being born of a virgin are stories that most people find strain credulity from a rational perspective. These stories are rich and beautiful and symbolically meaningful like a dream that teaches. People of authentic spirit embrace the meaning and allow it to enrich their experience of the divine without clinging to the literal. Faith is an assertion that can never be proven. That is the very nature of faith.
What if the existence of God was provable? In a recently published study by Roland Griffiths’ team at Johns Hopkins University, nearly 70 percent of all spiritually inclined test subjects reported having all of the characteristics and criteria that define a mystical experience after a single use of psilocybin. Many spiritually inclined people have shared that what initiated their opening to a higher awareness of the divine was a chemical peak experience that led to their quest for a more sustainable relationship with spirit. Substances ingested, smoked, snorted are at the foundation of both Eastern and Western civilization, from the Greek Eleusinian Mystery School to the Vedic Hymns to Soma, to the ibogaine-using Africans, to the ayuhuasca-brewing South Americans, to the peyote-eating Native Americans—every continent on this planet has had a relationship with shamanic sacramental medicines.
I do believe there is the possibility that world religions have much to unite and celebrate over. The biggest celebration will be over the uplifting of humanity beyond its self-destruction and the fulfillment of the human covenant with spirit, that we realize our oneness and create a life-fulfilling relationship with our destiny, with our soul, with our God-self.
Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1953. After winning the Seventeen magazine illustration prize and being given a solo exhibition at Columbus City Hall at age 17, he received a full scholarship to Columbus College of Art and Design. Alex dropped out of art school in 1973 and took a job as a billboard painter.
After one year working for Columbus Outdoor Advertising, he enrolled in the Boston Museum School at his own expense to study with conceptual artist Jay Jaroslav. It was there he met his wife, and collaborator of 34 years, the artist Allyson Grey. It was Allyson who both suggested the idea of the Sacred Mirrors and gave the series its name.
The Sacred Mirrors are a series of 21 paintings and etched mirrors that take the viewer on a journey through the physical, metaphysical, and transcendental realms of existence. Viewers are invited to see themselves as reflections of the divine. Inspiring a sense of profound connection and wonder, the series is the central pillar of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, or CoSM.
CoSM recently moved to a 40-acre retreat center 65 miles north of New York City, CoSM Art Sanctuary, which will begin holding workshops and ceremonies this summer. The exhibition of the CoSM permanent collection is expected to open on the autumnal equinox of 2010.
Grey’s visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness, the subject of his art, is contained in two monographs, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey (Inner Traditions) and Transfigurations (Inner Traditions), both in print for decades and published in numerous languages. Grey’s philosophy is contained in his book The Mission of Art (Shambhala Publications) and in his most recent book of art and poetry, Art Psalms (CoSM Press).